REVIEW: The Wonders

3 01 2015

The WondersNew York Film Festival, 2014

Alice Rohrwacher’s “The Wonders” is a tender film of quiet power, offering full satisfaction on a relatively modest scale.  Maria Alexandra Lungu plays Gelsomina, the eldest of four children in a rural Italian beekeeping family.  Her corner-cutting father sets a tone of putting their financial stability above all else, even sacrificing physical well-being in order to protect their honey.

Trying to better their quality of life, Gelsomina submits her family’s farm to compete on the reality show “Countryside Wonders,” which puts pastoral communities on display for the whole nation.  (For those who might not know too much about contemporary Italian culture, watch Matteo Garrone’s savage satire “Reality” to see just how firmly entrenched reality TV is in their collective psyche.)  Her proposal meets vehement opposition from the stern patriarch, who would rather take in a German juvenile delinquent to rescue them from dire straits.

Even with her small amount of power in the family, Gelsomina does her best to make responsible moves on their behalf.  This does require a kind of hardening into adulthood, making the film a bitter coming-of-age tale.  “The Wonders” is as much about innocence lost as it as about maturity gained, placing it in good company with films like “Hide Your Smiling Faces.”

Le Meraviglie

Gelsomina’s maturation feels relatable under the naturalistic, emotionally authentic direction of Rohrwacher.  Some aspects of the plot, however, do feel somewhat culturally specific and a bit confusing to those outside of Italy.  For example, there appeared to a point made about colonial attitudes towards people from the Etruscan region.  If there was some kind of deeper commentary about the state of Italian society, something got lost in translation in its voyage across the sea.

Nonetheless, it is rare to see a film at the proportion of a low-budget American indie from a foreign country, and “The Wonders” thus becomes a treat to observe.  Rohrwacher’s stylistic approach and choice of story are hardly groundbreaking, although both possess a certain care that lends a distinct sense of even-keeled gentility.  In just her second film, she hits a real sweet spot.  B+3stars

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One response

4 01 2015
Veronika Z

Looking forward to seeing this one. Great review!

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