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.”

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