New from Solzy at the Movies by Danielle Solzman: TIFF 2018: Clara

Grander than it’s sci-fi nature, Clara seeks to ask the question of not so much is there another Earth-like planet but are we alone in the universe.

Astronomer Isaac Bruno (Patrick J. Adams) is so obsessed with searching for an Earth-like planet that it costs him his job.  With no job and needing a purpose in his life, Bruno puts out a search for research assistant.  This is because of the TESS launching into space.  The nomadic artist Clara (Troian Bellisario) responds to the ad, which surprisingly also comes with boarding.  She also brings her dog, who steals the show.  Together, the two of them couldn’t be more opposite but when they put their minds together they can accomplish a lot.

The main objective of TESS is to find Earth-like planets.  With new data coming in, it means searching by hand for anomalies.  Things reach the point in which Isaac is so pre-occupied with finding something–anything!–that he starts to treat those around him very poorly.

There’s a sci-fi aspect to the film that makes for an interesting angle to the story.  A lot of it has to do with the major anomaly discovered by Isaac and Clara.  Nothing can get answered until after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope–the second part of a two-part project.  This is where writer-director Akash Sherman seeks to reflect reality.  In real life, TESS was launched earlier this year with the same rocket carrying it into space.  However, the lattter space telescope won’t be launched until 2021 but was expected to be launched in time for the film’s premiere.  Life gets in the way of making art, I suppose.

Speaking of, Sherman did the visual effects himself.  This feat alone is very impressive in its own right.  There’s quite a bit of scenes featuring space, not to mention flashes here and there of this anomaly orbiting a star.  In spite of it all, one would not look at it and think it was done in-house to save money on the budget.

On top of the sci-fi aspect, there are other themes at hand.  The theme of loss is one that Sherman reflects in his script.  This is in part because of how cathartic he found the writing process while dealing with loss himself.  There’s so much to think about in viewing the film with regards to the existing universe.

It’s very likely that when the film ends that audiences will have quite a few questions.  We get some hints here and there as to where the film is leading us.  These come by way of nightmarish dreams.  I don’t want to speculate too much in a review lest I delve into spoiler territory but there’s plenty more questions than answers.  This isn’t in a bad way but more or less of a what just happened? way.  This is one of those films that benefit from attending a Q&A screening where you get what the writer-director was aiming for.

There’s a deeper meaning to Akash Sherman’s Clara as the film begs of us to ask if life exists beyond the Earth.  The film is very much rooted in science with the images from outer space coming from NASA’s own library.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Akash Sherman
CAST:  Patrick J. Adams, Troian Bellisario, Ennis Esmer, Kristen Hager, R.H. Thomson, Jennifer Dale

Clara held its world premiere during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Discovery program.

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