The Wonders

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Alice Rohrwacher

Starring

Alba Rohrwacher Maria Alexandra Lungu Sam Louwyck

Anticipation.

Corpo Celeste established director Alice Rohrwacher as a bold new voice.

Enjoyment.

A quirky coming-of-ager with a light dash of magical realism.

In Retrospect.

Alice and Alba Rohrwacher look set to play a major part in shaping the future of Italian cinema.

Alice Rohrwacher confirms herself as one of Italian cinema's brightest talents in this pollen-dusted family drama.

Proving once again why she’s currently regarded as one of Italian cinema’s most exciting prospects, Alice Rohrwacher follows up her impressive 2011 debut, Corpo Celeste, with this semi-autobiographical tale of a colourful family’s struggle to keep its head above water against a changing tide.

We’re in middle Italy, more specifically on a tumbledown farm owned and operated by gruff patriarch Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) and his four young daughters. Beekeeping is their trade, the fiscal rewards of which are sweet but offer scant nourishment. Keeping the whole rabble in check are mother Angelica (Rohrwacher’s elder sister, Alba, perhaps best known to UK audiences for her supporting turn in Luca Guadagnino’s Milanese melodrama from 2009, I Am Love) and spiky live-in helper Coco (Sabine Timoteo).

Theirs is a modest set up – the equipment the use to harvest the honey is simple and outdated – but they seem relatively content in their countrified ways. Wolfgang is strict yet fair, and his strong work ethic means there’s always enough bread on the table to go round. But it’s a question of ‘for how long?’ when impending regulatory changes dictate that they modernise or risk being shut down.

The family effectively represents traditional Italian working values, which are being threatened by big business (personified here by invasively loud gunfire from passing hunters, met with fist-shaking wrath by Wolfgang) in the less progressive parts of the country. It’s a sympathetic portrait, but Rohrwacher neither glorifies their peasant lifestyle nor condemns the economic climate that is slowly squeezing them dry. Instead she focuses largely on the relationship between Wolfgang(grateful for everything he has but quietly desperate for a son) and eldest daughter Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), dedicating leisured sequences to them tending their hives in a neighbouring crop farmer’s parched fields.

The sumptuous cinematography and crisp Umbrian sun lends these scenes an almost dream-like quality, which is juxtaposed by the pressure-cooker setting of the family abode. It’s here that the film really takes shape, as the adults bicker about how they’re going to afford to replace their old-fashioned machinery, and the girls provide succour and distraction in equal measure as children do.

The quickest path to salvation is revealed in the form of a television talent contest where a handsome cash prize is awarded to the most viewer-friendly agricultural family. Naturally, the show is humorously trashy and hosted by Monica Bellucci in dazzling fetish goddess regalia. But Wolfgang, out of sheer stubbornness, isn’t interested, prompting Gelsomina to disobey her dear papa in an attempt to drag the family out of their dysfunctional mire single-handedly.

For a country with such a rich cinematic heritage, Italy’s recent track record as far as championing emerging talent is concerned, especially of the female variety, is hardly what you might call exemplary. To that end, the continued rise of the Rohrwacher sisters comes as both a welcome tonic and the surest sign yet that the long-term future of Italian cinema is in good health.

Published 15 Jul 2015

Tags: Alice Rohrwacher Italian cinema

Anticipation.

Corpo Celeste established director Alice Rohrwacher as a bold new voice.

Enjoyment.

A quirky coming-of-ager with a light dash of magical realism.

In Retrospect.

Alice and Alba Rohrwacher look set to play a major part in shaping the future of Italian cinema.

Read More

Corpo Celeste

By Sherwyn Spencer

Alice Rohrwacher’s auspicious debut feature brings to mind the Dardenne brothers.

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