Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Stars: Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck
3 (out of 5) Globes
“The Wonders” is the kind of naturalistic drama in which our rural, working class heroes can stumble upon Monica Bellucci dressed as a mermaid. Alice Rohrwacher’s Italian slice of realism is never above sliding into the casually bizarre then back again, for life in its pocket of the world is plenty kooky even without stars of new Bond movies. The focus is a family living in a barren stretch in the Tuscan countryside but away from the sumptuous areas visited by Hollywood movies. Led by grouchy German dad Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), their trade is beekeeping, which they do out of their ramshackle home, where they regularly have to deal with harsh winds blowing away their stock. Their operation and their lives are held together by scotch tape and bubble gum, but they’ve figured out a way to keep it going and they wouldn’t want anything to change.
Then along comes progress. The Italian government has issued new regulations, mandating improvements the family could in no way afford. And then there’s Bellucci’s Milly Catena, a famous TV personality who’s arrived in the region for a cheesy reality show called “Countryside Wonders,” which invades parts of the nation that tend to be ignored. Dad’s not having it, but the eldest daughter Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) is stoked, as the idea of being on television, and maybe being tempted away from her dingy digs, are too tempting to miss.
That’s about it for plot, as the film is itself cheerfully stubborn, happy to hang and observe the comedy of people contented with their ornery lives, even if it’s happily distracted by invading weirdness. Director Alice Rohrwacher’s camera gets off the tripod and pushes in close on characters always on the move, even if it’s just several minutes watching the family’s young daughters — who do the brunt of the beekeeping for dad — scooping up honey spilled all over the floor. It’s realism mixed with light absurdism, especially once the “Countryside Wonders” climax rears its head, swapping the dusty digs and ragged clothes (Wolfgang would like nothing more than to scamper about only in dirty briefs) for ridiculous Etruscan togas and eyesore headgear. A coming-of-age tale brews in the background, with Gelsomina getting a taste of the outside world. But it’s more a comedy that finds silliness and beauty in stubbornness. Eventually this acutely observed drama even makes room for a camel.