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Issue No. 16 - Chaos

MOVIE REVIEW: THE WONDERS (2014) DIR. ALICE ROHRWACHER

MOVIE REVIEW: THE WONDERS (2014) DIR. ALICE ROHRWACHER

Image above: from Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders

The wonderousness of this film is both naturalistic, surreal and symbolic. The setting is the Umbrian countryside and a rustic farm where a family of women - four daughters, their mother, and her close friend live with Wolfgang, the patriarch, a gruff German curmudgeon. He raises bees for a living and rules the household with an iron hand. His eldest daughter, 14 year old Gelsomina, is his designated assistant and manages a great deal of responsibility in the handling of the hives and the processing the honey for sale. He is a hard task-master with a vicious temper and Gelsomina is grudgingly obedient.

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Image above: from Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders

When the film opens the camera leisurely explores the daily life of the family with verité close-ups of bees, Gelsomina doing bee-keeping chores, and her father sleeping on a bed outside on the ground, and futiley railing against the hunters in the distance who are shooting and who cannot hear him. They live a hardscrabble life and have serious money problems and are facing eviction. Wolfgang is stubbornly committed to the purity of their life and work. But everyone looks pretty scraggly and haggard and not so happy.

The whole tone changes when the girls come across a surreal scene taking place in front of a waterfall near their farm where a whole camera crew is filming a trailer for a new television program about the “wonders” of Umbrian country life. What they are shooting is a glamorous platinum blond actress (Monica Bellucci) dressed as a mermaid in an all white sequing dress with Las Vegas-style headdress standing on a rock in the middle of the river. None of the girls have ever seen anything like this in their lives and all are transfixed - none more than Gelsomina, who becomes obsessed. This realityaltering moment triggers the beginning of her rebellion against the tyranny of her father and the rigors of her life.

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Image above: from Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders

When Martin, a teenage boy the same age as Gelsomina, is brought into the family to help out with the work, more ripples are caused. Martin is handsome and mysterious as he barely speaks. He is being fostered by the family as a deterrent to some sort of trouble he has gotten into in the hopes that the country life will be beneficial. As Gelsomina’s attentions are diverted away from her father and her family she becomes wayward and dreamy and the equilibrium is upset. The cinematography shifts tone as well and becomes more Fellini-esque especially when the family tries out for the prize from the cheezy television show about the Wonders of Country Life. As we know from reality shows there is nothing real about them and this one is no exception. They are obliged to wear absurd pastoral costumes and perform strange talents to demonstrate their authenticity. After this outside invasion on their lives - nothing will ever be the same. Even the gift of a camel to Gelsomina will not pull her back into her previous role.

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Image above: from Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders

All of the characters are well-acted. Alexandra Lungu as Gelsomina is endlessly fascinating as the camera spends much time in close ups of her face which registers so much inner complexity with such calm. Sam Louvyck’s Wolfgang is all sinewy, pent-up disappointment, anger and stubborness. Alba Rohrwacher, the director’s sister, as Angelica, plays the eccentric, put-upon, harried mother just trying to keep it together in the face of warring realities with a world-weariness that is tangible. The cinematography is all gorgeous.

The ending is parenthetical and enigmatic with the whole family lying together on Wolfgang’s large mattress on the ground outside of the farm. The camel is gone, they have not won the prize money, Martin has vanished and Gelsomina is the last to arrive to lie down. It made me wonder.

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Image above: from Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders

- Belle McIntyre

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