The question of our place in the universe is one that has been at the attention of scholars for almost as long as we have studied the stars. It is only in the last half century that we have had the technological ability to study the stars as never before in the search for a planet that shows evidence of life. This is the subject of the new film Clara, which screened at the Sitges Film Festival
An professor in astronomy is obsessed with the search for intelligent life in the galaxy. It takes precedence over everything else in his life including his teaching duties. When is found to be misappropriating telescope time he is forced to take a leave of absence from his job. This gives him the chance to work full time on his obsession as a new near orbit telescope has been launched and there is a chance to analyse the data it is producing. In his search for a research assistant he comes into contact with Clara, an artist who has boundless curiosity and a real sense of wonder about life on other planets. Working together has an effect on both of them which neither really saw coming.
This is one of these films that uses science fact and fiction as the basis for the drama. It is a small scale, intimate story that is pretty much a two hander. The search for a planet is the kicking off point for an examination of how we actually behave as human beings. It sounds kind of dry as a subject but in the hands of writer director Akash Sherman it makes for a interesting movie.
The title character of Clara (Troian Bellisario) is the heart of the movie. She holds a sense of wonder of everything around her. An accomplished artist and a seasoned traveller she is drawn to the project as a way of satisfying an urge that she has held for all of her life. It is a way of filling in a a perceived hole regarding where she fits into the world and where she came from, having never known her parents. She is a drifter with a restless spirit who confesses that she only stays in one place until things start to get serious and then she knows it is time to move on.
Her counterpoint in the drama is Isaac (Patrick J Adams), an over serious academic. His work has forced him into a situation where he has little else and has a real problem understanding that he is in fact the problem. His relationship with the stars overrides all else. He lives in the past when he is not dealing with technology. He has a love of music on vinyl as it is a connection to his long departed ex wife. Some anger surfaces occasionally like in the opening scene where he deconstructs love and marriage.
He learns from Clara in a way that is totally foreign to him. When trying to get something done over the phone he is brusk to the point of rudeness and its only when Clara takes over that his request is granted. She explains to a clearly surprised Isaac that all she did was engage with the woman on the phone by asking her how her day was going. Isaac’s expression at this revelation says it all.
The film has a gentle pace about it which allows the interactions of the main characters to push the story forward. it is in the time the audience spends with them together and occasionally in isolation that we get to understand what brought them to the place they find themselves. There are certain inevitable outcomes of their time together but these never feel forced or tacked on in any way.
Clara is not a film that will blow you away but is one that kind of lingers long after the credits have rolled.