Melbourne International Film Festival 2014

Clara and The Secret of the Bears, MIFF 2014

0 Comments 07 August 2014

Clara and The Secret of the Bears, directed by Tobias Ineichen, is a fairytale about the power that comes from compassion and connection to nature. When poachers kill a bear on the outskirts of Clara’s village in the Swiss Alps, Clara sets out to rescue her orphaned cub. Through her visions of the past, Clara encounters the ghosts of women vilified by a village driven by fear.

If the Brothers Grimm were ecofeminists, this is the film they would make. Clara and The Secret of the Bears feels like an old story, but its message is decidedly contemporary. With a strong focus on oral traditions and storytelling, this film is about culture and connectedness. Surrounded by people still fearful of the legendary ‘Bären-Frau’, a witch who cursed the village, the 13-year-old Clara (Ricarda Zimmerer) has the insight to investigate and, in turn, she is rewarded. Inquisitiveness, literacy, and cross-generational discourses are all praised in a way that engages a younger audience. Clara is seen as magic, and her powers of empathy and vision transform her from a helpless young girl into a person in touch with her environment and connected to the forces of nature. A warning repeats itself throughout the film and Clara is the only one who listens: “the wrath of nature reigns down on those who harm the bears”.

Women drive this film, with almost all of the major characters being female, and while they are sometimes met with ridicule by their antagonists, their strength brings them triumph. Integrity, empathy and listening bring these women together in solidarity across several generations and several centuries, and together they save themselves and the bears, restoring the balance of their village. At every turn, this film attempts to challenge unhealthy gender roles. Is this legendary woman a witch? Or is she just a social outcast, a woman speaking her mind, voicing an unpopular opinion? Does she deserve our outrage or a moment of our time for us to question ourselves? There are atypical male characters as well. Clara gains the friendship of a boy in her class, but it is only that – a friendship – and Clara never compromises herself for it. And a bear cub raised by its father is something we, like the characters in the film, might not expect to see.

The inclusion of the bears, acting in a non-threatening way, helps a young audience in understanding their fears instead of demonising them. The bears we see are still wild animals, and they are shown to be dangerous. But Clara and The Secret of the Bears teaches us that protecting the bears from a respectful distance is better than hunting them, an important lesson in coexistence. The non-human characters play an important role in this film. The landscape of the Swiss Alps might be easy to miss as a character, but as soon as it starts to be mistreated, it is sure to make its powerful presence known.

Clara and The Secret of the Bears is a touching and well-constructed film that teaches us the importance of learning to walk in other people’s shoes while being mindful of our footprints.

3½/5 stars

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