THE WONDERS (LE MERAVIGLIE) (Alice Rohrwacher, 2014)
Walter Reade Theater, Film Society of Lincoln Center
165 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Friday, August 3, 9:15
Wednesday, August 8, 3:45
Festival runs through August 9
Winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders is a sweet little gem of a movie, focusing on a German-Italian family that finds itself at a critical crossroads. Set in Rohrwacher’s (Corpo celeste) hometown in the countryside between Umbria-Lazio and Tuscany, the film follows the travails of a beekeeping family led by the gangly Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), a grumpy ne’er-do-well from one of the Germanic countries who is trying to live some kind of back-to-the-land life away from authorities in an undeveloped backwater. His allegiance to old-fashioned tradition includes overworking his four young daughters while his wife, Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, the director’s older sister), keeps at a distance and live-in friend Cocò (Sabine Timoteo) keeps stirring up the pot. At the center of it all is twelve-year-old Gelsomina (first-time actress Maria Alexandra Lungu, who was discovered in a catechism class), an exceptional beekeeper who wants her father to allow the family to participate in a television contest, Countryside Wonders, that could earn them much-needed money. But her father prefers taking care of things himself — though not very well, particularly when he acquires a camel for no apparent reason. Suspicious of the government and contemporary society, Wolfgang likes living in relative isolation; inviting strangers into their world could reveal the illegal working conditions, not to mention abuse of child labor laws. However, Gelsomina is determined to improve their existence, starting with the competition, which is hosted by the beguiling, fairy-tale-like Milly Catena (Monica Bellucci in a marvelous white head piece, partially poking fun at her own sex-symbol image).
Propelled by Lungu’s beautifully gentle performance, which captures the essence of so many basic childhood dilemmas, The Wonders is a warm, tender-hearted film, one that keeps buzzing even if it lacks a big sting, a coming-of-age drama not only for Gelsomina but for the family as a whole. Photographed in a neorealist style by Hélène Louvart, the film is about tradition and change, about the city and the country, about the old and the new, about what home means, and, yes, about bees and honey; there are no trick shots or special effects when it comes to the actors working with beehives and swarms. “The parents of Maria Alexandra Lungu were very happy,” the director states in the film’s press kit. “They said that if the film wouldn’t work out, at least their daughter learned a real skill and could become a beekeeper!” The Wonders, which was a selection of the fifty-second New York Film Festival, is screening August 3 at 9:15 and August 8 at 3:45 in the Lincoln Center series “The Female Gaze,” consisting of nearly three dozen films with women cinematographers, investigating whether women bring something different to cinematic storytelling. The series continues through August 9 with such other works as Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, photographed by Johnson; Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, photographed by Ellen Kuras; Claire Denis’s The Intruder, photographed by Agnès Godard; and Jacques Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord, photographed by Caroline Chametier.