English Title: The Wonders
Original Title: Le meraviglie
Country: Italy, Switzerland, Germany
Language: Italian, French, German
Director/Writer: Alice Rohrwacher
Music: Piero Crucitti
Cinematography: Hélène Louvart
Maria Alexandra Lungu
Italian director Alice Rohrwacher’s sophomore feature, the Grande Prix winner in Cannes 2014, THE WONDERS is a semi-autobiographical essay, tells the story of an Italian family of beekeepers, the patriarch Wolfgang (Louwyck) is (supposedly) of German descent, with wife Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, Alice’s elder sister) and their four daughters, the eldest one is Gelsomina (Lungu), who is on the cusp of puberty, together they live in the countryside of Etruscan area.
Gelsomina is the main help of Wolfgang in apiculture, but once they bump into a TV crew shooting a show called “The Land of Wonders”, where a competition of products from local farmers is held up, it can bring handsome prize-money to the hard-up family, it piques her interest while Wolfgang is (inexplicably) strongly against the idea. Meanwhile the family accepts to allow a juvenile delinquent Martin (Huica), who is arranged by the so-called Second Life organization, to work on the farm in exchange for some income, Martin doesn’t speak Italian and seems to be autistic, still and all, he is a boy. Wolfgang’s undisguised preference of Martin over her in beekeeping, sores the sensitive Gelsomina, and she fills an application on behalf of their family to compete in the TV show without telling anyone.
Drama, accident, emotion and mystery are intermittently jammed into Rohrwacher’s poetic and fly-on-the-wall approach of the rural life she is familiar with. Scenery is primarily shoot in available light, an opening gambit with a long take sustained only by the headlights of approaching vehicles out of the pitch black, manifests her aesthetic philosophy and sets the overall tonality, so no picturesque bucolic landscapes to take viewers’ breathe away, instead, Rohrwacher painstakingly taps into the ethereal aura of Etruscan myth, setting the TV competition inside a cavern, forging Martin’s unexplained disappearance in the necropolis area (later hinged with the equally unexplained affinity between him and Gelsomina) and the finale, an existential allegory (the ill-fitting camel gets up and moves out of the frame, so is their family workshop, cannot stay in business in the climate). All burnish the picture with a primitive sheen which is so out of tune with our era, and the ultimate sentiment is uniquely personal.
Defying empathy and involvement, THE WONDERS is not ambitious to tell a nostalgic story, it merely introduces the vignette of a family once lived on the farm, there was a girl who has bees coming out of her mouth and a boy accompanies her with a melodious whistle.
As an art-house project, it is disheartening to notice Monica Belluci’s thankless participation here as the beautified anchorwoman Milly, sporting a gaudy wig and being idolized by amateur child actors, it is a frustrating strategy of celebrity placement, a false advertisement, which is as shameless as dragging Juliet Binoche into her five-minutes presence in blockbuster GODZILLA (2014). There is some mettle wanting in this case, as a young female writer/director, Alice Rohrwacher has a long and tough battle to fight as a trailblazer for women in the ultra- exist Italian film industry.