FOLLOWING from her 2011 debut Corpo Celeste, Alice Rohrwacher’s second feature The Wonders is not only a superior work to her debut but also an impressive character study that represents why Italian cinema of today is on a high.
Detailing the lives of a family based in a deserted section of Italy’s countryside during one summer in an unknown time period, the patriarchal existence where the father is the only male is clear to see. Instilling a rigorous work ethic on his family, the beekeeping duties of the grumpy, frequently unkempt father Adrian (Andre Henncike) are shown in detail as his eldest daughter Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) works alongside him for such a duty.
At the same time, the family is assigned to foster and hire for work a juvenile named Martin as part of a correctional program, while tensions in the house are increased by uncertain futures and various obstacles in the work.
A chance encounter on a beach results in the family encountering the filming of a naff television talent programme where the host (Monica Bellucci) spends pretty much the whole time dressed as a mixture of Cleopatra and Daenerys Targaryen. Using the opportunity as a chance to unite the family in something that doesn’t involve beekeeping or harvesting honey in buckets, Gelsomina attempts to use the show as a way to sort out the instability in the household.
Rohrwacher directs the film with a visual look that resembles 1970s dramas such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem and Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive. The opening shot of car lights at night slowly being introduced also presents this as one where a talent for displaying memorable visuals is all but apparent. By observing this style, not only does it present the film as a nostalgic look at European cinema, especially regarding the comparisons with Erice’s work but presenting Rohrwacher as one to look out for in future.
The storylines that often take place capture a sense of well-placed explanation with Hennicke and Lungu delivering memorable performances with the uneased frustrations of the father successfully positioning with the uncertainty and quiet determination of the daughter.
One section that represents Rohrwahcer as having flair for expression arrives when an incident during the honey harvesting results in a hospital visit but then discovering there that the honey was not switched off. A desperate attempt to clear up the over-spilled honey before the father arrives home is directed with intensity, helped by the fact that the potential response from the father drives just as much fear to the viewer as does to the characters, proof that director and actor have done their jobs properly.
The film is for the most part a very good film and one that almost certainly requires a second viewing. There are times when the film does turn into a good film with areas such as the family’s participation in the programme and a visit from a friend of Adrian’s not having the same enjoyment as watching argument scenes or the integration of Martin into the family.
Along with recent Italian films such as We Have a Pope, The Great Beauty (one of the decade’s best) and Human Capital, this is argument for why Italian cinema is today undergoing a period of genuine reliability, not noticed currently for American films. Rohrwacher may not have directed a masterpiece but it is films like this that contain areas which design assumption that any future work from the director deserves to be seen quickly. The visual flair, the acting (specifically by children as Rohrwacher demonstrated once before), the various storytelling methods and the direction provide The Wonders with enough delight to place this as a possible contender for appearing in the year’s top films.