Nathalie Álvarez Mesén • Director of Clara Sola
“We have definitely raised the volume when it comes to addressing the patriarchal side of religion”
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2021: The director shares some of her thoughts and memories from a journey that started years ago in both Costa Rica and Sweden
Plenty of praise is being showered upon Clara Sola [+see also:
interview: Nathalie Álvarez Mesén
film profile], a tale of the sensuous awakenings of a reluctant faith healer, playing in the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. First-time fiction feature director Nathalie Álvarez Mesén shares some of her thoughts and memories from a journey that started in 2013, if not before, in Costa Rica as well as in Sweden.
Cineuropa: How did you come to have roots in both Latin American and Northern European soil?
Nathalie Álvarez Mesén: My father’s from Uruguay, and my mother’s Costa Rican. My mother went to Russia to study, and she then came to Sweden, where she met my father and I was born. When I was seven, we moved to Costa Rica, where I went to school and high school, and then moved back to Sweden to study – first Swedish, which I’d forgotten, then film and also mime acting. And here we are.
You’ve made several shorts, both in Sweden and in the USA. When was your Costa Rican tale born?
In 2013, during a school exercise. We had to put down a film idea on one single page. Clara was born on that page. It’s been special to finally get to film in the Spanish language. And I found a wonderful crew that became like a family.
How did you pick your team and your acting ensemble?
With great care. The Costa Rican producers recommended a local crew; I went there 18 months before shooting, and we gradually built a team. The post-production was done in Belgium, where I was handed a list of editors, and the name Marie-Hélène Dozo popped up. She edited one of my favourite documentaries, Stop the Pounding Heart [+see also:
film profile], and one of my favourite fiction features, Rosetta. “Open up, open up!” she used to say, constantly looking for new ways to tell the story. She added lots of poetry. Sophie Winqvist, the DoP, and I started preparations already in Sweden. We arrived in Costa Rica a month before shooting and did a full storyboard of the film, with me playing Clara!
Of the actors, none are actual actors. Wendy Chinchilla is a dancer and the only one with stage experience – I’d seen her in a performance in 2018 and was totally blown away. The rest we found via street casting or via Facebook. Our acting coach, Carlos Fagua, from Colombia, specialises in non-professionals and managed to make them open up and be vulnerable, both in front of others and in front of the camera.
Catholicism and its dogma get quite a critical treatment in the film. What was your intention here?
Actually, my own childhood memories are full of community, belonging and love. But there’s also the dogma, and we have definitely raised the volume when it comes to addressing the patriarchal side of religion. With time, this side has sneaked in and now passes as tradition. Why do I do this? Because I want to, or because I’ve been taught to? When I was growing up, I lacked a safe space where I could discuss sexuality outside of the biological aspects. This story aims to provide a certain measure of liberation for the viewer. But rather than an intellectual case, I want to present an emotional one.
There is a saying: “Give me a child until the age of seven, and I’ll give you a Catholic for life.” Does this apply to you?
Not quite. My father isn’t religious at all. My mother believes but isn’t a fanatic, and we never attended Mass. My grandparents were deeper into it, and I started to recognise certain expectations I might have to honour. In Sweden, I was able to gain some distance from it all and could reflect more.
If you could choose one especially good Swedish and one Costa Rican national characteristic, what would they be?
Swedish honesty and Costa Rican warmth. The interesting thing is that after a while, the Swede will get warmer and the Costa Rican more honest. I like both very much.
What’s the next project on the cards for you?
It’s called The Wolf Will Tear Your Immaculate Hands. It’s a gothic-tropical drama, set in colonial Latin America, a real epic.
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