Synopsis: A family of beekeepers living in the Tuscan countryside finds their household disrupted by the simultaneous arrival of a silently troubled teenage boy and a reality TV show intent on showcasing the family.
Release Date: December 4, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Every director dreams of making personal movies. The problem is that when a movie gets too personal it fails to connect with the majority of its audience. That’s the main problem with the new movie from writer/director Alice Rohrwacher (Corpo celeste), Le meraviglie. Or, as it’s known in English, The Wonders.
The Wonders is about a family of beekeepers who lives in a crowded house in the Tuscan countryside in Italy. Although the mother, Angelica (the director’s sister, Alba Rohrwacher from I Am Love), and father, Wolfgang (Bullhead‘s Sam Louwyck), are both present, the running of the struggling family business falls squarely upon the shoulders of the eldest daughter of the house, twelve-year-old Gelsomina (newcomer Maria Alexandra Lungu). The honey that their bees produce is the best in the area, but the conditions under which it is collected are sub-par, their laboratory bordering on illegal.
While out playing in the sea with her sisters one afternoon, Gelsomina stumbles upon the shooting set of a television reality game show called “Countryside Wonders” in which different farmers compete for a cash prize. Although Wolfgang is against the idea, Gelsomina wants to enter the contest. Meanwhile, in order to gain a monetary stipend from the government, Wolfgang agrees to take in a troublemaking reeducation boy named Martin (Luis Huilca, another newcomer) to help with some of the work around the farm. Gelsomina finds herself taken with both the thought of the T.V. show and the new worker, and hopes that both can help her and the family save their honey business.
While The Wonders is not truly autobiographical, Alice Rohrwacher put a lot of herself into the script. It’s set in the part of Italy where she grew up. Her family, like the one in the film, was mixed German-Italian. She has experience working in the honey production industry. And, although her sister plays the mother in the film, the character of Gelsomina was written with Alba in mind, as Alice needed to get into the head of an older sister. So, Rohrwacher leaves a lot of herself on screen in The Wonders. As mentioned earlier, probably too much; she’s too close to the material to make a universally compelling movie about it.
Unfortunately, the only character in The Wonders who elicits any empathy is Gelsomina, and even she’s one dimensional and dry. The parents are not likable, the sisters are boring, and Martin the reeducation worker never fully develops. The most interesting character in the film is the host of the reality show, a knockout named Milly Catena (played by Monica Bellucci from Irreversible and the Matrix movies), and she’s only in a sparse handful of scenes. It’s hard for an audience to get invested in a movie when the characters don’t deserve their time.
What it all boils down to is the story. At first, it would seem as if the family’s quest to make it onto the reality game show would be the main narrative in The Wonders, but it’s not. The primary arc is also not the family’s ever-increasing problems. Nor is it the trials and tribulations with the re-education boy. What is the real story with The Wonders? It’s hard to tell, and that’s the problem.
Alice Rohrwacher’s direction in The Wonders lacks focus. From a stylistic standpoint, the movie has problems. For example, there are few places in the film where the camera will drift off into the distance, then come back to a different scene, one that couldn’t have materialized as quickly as it does – characters disappear, sets change, objects move. This seems as if it is an attempt to inject a bit of surrealism into the film.
The problem is that The Wonders is not a surreal movie. It’s actually fairly gritty and authentic. When Rohrwacher makes unnecessarily artsy decisions, it just serves to distract the viewer. It only happens a couple of times, but this lapse in focus is enough to damage the audience’s suspension of disbelief. They’re no longer watching a film about struggling beekeepers, they’re watching a fantasy movie. And The Wonders should not be considered a fantasy movie.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Alice Rohrwacher
- Producer(s): Karl Baumgartner, Carlo Cresto-DinaTiziana Soudani, Michael Weber
- Screenwriter(s): Alice Rohrwacher
- Cast: Maria Alexandra Lungu (Gelsomina), Sam Louwyck (Wolfgang – Father), Alba Rohrwacher (Angelica – Mother), Sabine Timoteo (Cocò), Agnese Graziani (Marinella), Luis Huilca Logroño (Martin), Eva Lea Pace Morrow (Caterina), Maris Stella Morrow (Luna), André Hennicke (Adrian), Monica Bellucci (Milly Catena), Carlo Tarmati (Carlo Portarena)
- Editor(s): Marco Spoletini
- Cinematographer: Hélène Louvart
- Costume Designer: Loredana Buscemi
- Casting Director(s): Chiara Polizzi
- Music Score: Piero Crucitti
- Country Of Origin: ItalySwitzerland