The Wonders

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Wonders
"Wisdom is quiet and the future a mystery"

Stripping layers of falsehood from an Italian farming community exposes something unexpected in modern filmmaking, a sensitivity to the trapped emotions of those without a voice.

There is a rough hewn reality about this that allows sentiment a hook, however tentative, which eases the strain of poverty and brings a kind of hope to the vulnerable. Life is not broken so much as abused. Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), the only male in a family of women and girls, remains solitary in his rage. Why so angry? Why so unforgiving?

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The farmhouse has terminal decay which is bearable in the Mediterranean sun. Pretension has no place here. The enemy is everyone else and the European Union. New rules and subsidies insist upon upgrading facilities in hygiene and pest control which is expensive and damaging. Wolfgang's honey business has little chance of survival.

His 12-year-old daughter, Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), finds communication difficult. She is shy and still, watchful and mentally strong. She knows her father's fury is a reflection of his sense of failure and yet cannot reach him except through work. Her knowledge of hive maintenance and swarm retrieval and her confidence handling bees only endorses her empathy with the natural world.

When a TV show hosts a competition for country folk, untouched by progress, offering big cash prizes and a holiday abroad, Gelsomina is eager to enter, while at the same time her parents have taken in a delinquent German boy, who speaks no Italian, for much-needed foster fees.

The film mixes these divergent themes by following instinct rather than plot lines. There are no simplistic explanations, nor faux psychological wraps. The way that writer/director Alice Rohrwacher sets the scene and lets her characters loose is reminiscent of Antonioni's ability to create atmosphere from unfulfilled emotion.

Gelsomina retains her innocence, protecting the boy from misunderstandings of adult perception. Wisdom is quiet and the future a mystery. If the bees die from insecticide poisoning and the bureaucrats in Brussels destroy tradition for the sake of European unity and TV programmes fake compassion what remains are the dreams of children.

It is enough.

Reviewed on: 17 Jul 2015
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Nothing will be the same at the end of this summer for Gelsomina and her three younger sisters.
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Director: Alice Rohrwacher

Writer: Alice Rohrwacher

Starring: Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Alba Rohrwacher, Sabine Timoteo, Agnese Graziani, Monica Bellucci

Year: 2014

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy, Switzerland, Germany


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