Italian director and writer Alice Rohrwacher only has been making films since 2011, where her debut feature Heavenly Body premiered at the Cannes to critical acclaim. In 2014, she debuted her second film, a coming-of-age feature set in rural Italy, where it won the Grand Prix award at the festival that made her name.
The Wonders (original title: “Le meraviglie“)centres on a family in Italy, where temperamental father Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) gets his young children to help with his beehives. Among his children is 12-year old Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), who everyone else sees as the head of the family. When Gelsomina enters a TV contest to promote her family’s homemade honey, Wolfgang angrily contests but with hope of additional cashflow for the family, she chooses to persevere.
There is inspiration from Rohrwacher’s childhood as her father worked as a beekeeper and her childhood experiences are sure to inspire this tale of rustic family life, which seems to be dysfunctional from the outset. The children don’t go to school, their home is practically derelict and the only source of income is their honey. It paints a stripped down lifestyle, which should make the narrative quite straightforward. However, with the introduction of the outlandish TV show, featuring hostess Milly (Monica Bellucci), the story drifts into the fantastical and occasionally weird. Along with camels and awkward come-ons, The Wonders is not as clear-cut as it can be and the occasional oddity causes it to lose its way.
However, it benefits from Lungu’s strong performance as Gelsomina, whose natural confidence in front of the camera, especially while handling close encounters with live bees, shows a maturity beyond her years. The film is also nicely captured with Rohrwacher’s direction as she catches the simple yet natural landscapes of Italy, as well as making effective use of lighting throughout to capture the varying levels of connection in the family.
Overall, The Wonders is an example of insightful, though-provoking filmmaking but is let down by its bizarre change of tone.
The Wonders is out in UK cinemas on 17th July.
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Writer: Alice Rohrwacher
Stars: Alba Rohrwacher, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam
Runtime: 110 mins
Country: Italy, Switzerland, Germany