Nathalie Álvarez Mesen: “Let’s normalize the stories of women who are not in their twenties”

As the year 2021 draws its bow, the agenda of Costa Rican-Swedish director Nathalie Álvarez Mesen is packed. Selected in the “Height” category at Arcs Film Festival 2021 (which runs from December 11 to 18), she is in the United States to campaign for the Oscars. His first movie, Clara sola, already spotted at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, hits the mark. By exploring the awakening to a sexuality and the spirituality of a forty-something recluse in a village of Costa Rica, the filmmaker signs a coming of age poetic, imbued with “magical realism”, as she likes to define it herself. And lays the foundations for devilishly promising beginnings.

We exchanged by email with Nathalie Álvarez Mesen on the role of female directors in this post- # MeToo industry, of “female gaze” and of stories to be reinvented.

Terrafemina: How did you live these two years shaken by the Covid?

Nathalie Álvarez Mesen: I realized how much I needed loved ones. I also cherished the time spent alone. My anger and sadness over the climate crisis has increased. The feeling of community has developed in several circles, even at a distance. The pace of life slowed down and I made deep bonds with new and old friends through it.

If you had to qualify them in one word?

NAM: Introspection.

Your film deals with the social and sexual awakening of a 40-year-old woman. Why did you choose this subject?

NAM: Clara’s age doesn’t really matter. She is a woman who has been brought up in a way that compels her to admire the unapproachable “purity” of the Virgin Mary. And this tradition prompts her to be ashamed of her natural sexual desire and to regard pleasure as a sin.

The film takes place in a matriarchal house which still reproduces the patriarchal norms. I, too, grew up surrounded by women who did their best to educate the next generation, but who inevitably continued to reproduce their patriarchal legacy … It is a legacy that is ingrained in us. We are taught to be ashamed of our period, of our hair, of masturbation, of saying “no”.

This society encourages us to give everything to others, without keeping anything for ourselves. But this Clara is not a martyr: she is stubborn, not ashamed of her body, has no desire to please others – in fact, she is more in tune with insects and plants than humans – and it has a different rhythm and language. So how can she continue to exist in this world?

Choosing a woman who is in her forties as the main character, is it a political choice in this cinema hit by the scourge of ageism?

NAM: What can be political is the fact that we have opened up the casting to a wide range of ages. In the script the character was 10 years younger, but when actress Wendy Chinchilla arrived we immediately knew it had to be her, so we changed the script. And we found out that it made him so much richer. For me, it was mostly about finding the right person to embody the story. And that was her.

But there is something political about joining a project like this, buying a movie like this to distribute it, buying a ticket to go see it. I’m incredibly proud and grateful that so many Distributors have joined us: it’s a step towards normalizing the stories of female characters in their 20s. And I love that viewers notice that this is an empowering tale: we may need a change at any age.

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Nathalie Álvarez Mesen: “Let’s normalize the stories of women who are not in their twenties”