‘Clara Sola’ Helmer Joins Icelandic Scribe Sjón on New Gothic Drama

Maverick Icelandic scribe Sjón, Oscar-nominated for the lyrics of Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” and co-writer of the eerie Cannes Un Certain Regard title “Lamb,” has teamed up with multi-awarded Swedish-Costa-Rican Nathalie Álvarez-Mesén (“Clara Sola”) on her sophomore feature “The Wolf Will Tear Your Immaculate Hands,”, Variety has learned.

The English-language gothic period drama is backed by Hobab’s Nima Yousefi, Swedish co-producer on this year’s Cannes competition entry “The Apprentice” and Critics’ Week’s “Julie Keeps Quiet”.

The ambitious projec,  which scooped the Eurimages-Co-production Development Award at the TorinoFilmLab 2021, will start lensing next year. “We are casting right now, with top casting director Isabella Odoffin of “How to Have Sex,” said Yousefi, who has secured coin so far from Scandinavia’s leading regional fund and regular co-production partner Film i Väst.

“The Wolf…” marks Yousefi and the young auteur’s second collaboration after her breakthrough movie “Clara Sola,” one of the most buzziest titles in Cannes 2021’s Directors’ Fortnight which sold worldwide, including to Oscilloscope for the U.S. It went on to represent Costa Rica at the Oscars. Álvarez-Mesén’s “spellbinding debut” is “a strange and mesmerizing tale of mysticism and sexual awakening in rural Costa Rica,” Variety said in its review.

According to Yousefi, Álvarez-Mesén’s follow up pic will be a period drama which plays with the gothic genre and digs deeper into a more eerie magical realism than ‘Clara Sola.’”

According to a description, set in the 1860s, the period piece turns on a Native American woman, educated in a Christian mission school, then sent to a remote area of the U.S. Pacific Northwest to work as a governess. Her task is to educate the two daughters of a British widower. With the arranged marriage of the eldest daughter looming closer, household tensions arise and expose a deep connection between the women and the forest, despite the father’s attempt at keeping nature at bay.

“The story will discuss how to break free from patriarchal structures, and if you can decolonize your own body, if not for yourself, for the sake of future generations,” says Álvarez-Mesén who was inspired by her own family background. “I discovered that my family’s connection to my Indigenous ancestors was completely broken – across several generations. For instance, our family name is not our original family name, because the settlers and colonisers who came to our land, gave their name to the Indigenous people,” said the Swedish/Costa-Rican filmmaker.

“With this film,” she continues, “I’m interested in exploring the effects of colonization, how bridges are broken between generations, and if those bridges can be rebuilt.”

Four-Handed Script

Álvarez-Mesén’s original script, initiated before the making of “Clara Sola,” has now ended up as a four-handed piece, co-authored by Iceland’s prominent poet, novelist, lyricist, and screenwriter Sjón.

Asked how he came onboard, the co-writer of Robert Eggers’s “The Northman” and Valdimar Jóhannsson’s “Lamb” said: “I saw ‘Clara Sola’ in 2019, when it premiered in Cannes at the same time as ‘Lamb,’ and it became my favourite film of that year.”

“As someone who’s worked with myths and folk stories in novels, songs and screenplays, I was immediately fascinated by Nathalie’s command of bringing to the screen something as difficult as the shifting borders between the inner and outer reality of her film’s protagonist,” he says. “So, when Nima [Yousefi] approached me and offered me to join them on her next film, I saw it as a wonderful invitation to work with a fellow mythographer.”

About his personal touch to the narrative, Sjón adds: “I hope I have brought to it some of my knowledge of how to depict the past while staying true to the beliefs of the people who lived there. In this case, it is a worldview that will be unsettling to contemporary sensibilities, and that is something that makes for a good story. I may also have added some dark Northern lyricism to Nathalie’s warm Latin American poetry,” he says.

Yousefi whose motto is “to combine arthouse sensitivity with mainstream appeal,”  said “The Wolf…” will be his biggest project ever. “It will be challenging but perfectly manageable,” he said, mentioning Álvarez-Mesén’s recent experience as episodic director on the U.S. show “Three Women,” starring Shailene Woodley.

Next to Alvarez-Mesén, up-and-coming talent on Hobab’s roster include Sweden’s Mika Gustafson, multi-prized for her debut “Paradise is Burning,” and Belgium’s Leonardo van Dijl, picked for Critics’ Week with “Julie Keeps Quiet.” The former Cannes ‘Producer on the Move’ is also co-producing  Ali Abbasi’s much-anticipated Palme d’or contender “The Apprentice,” set to world premiere May 20 in Cannes. 

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