Writer/director Alice Rohrwacher shows a deft touch with her sophomore effort, “The Wonders.” A coming of age film set against the backdrop of a family looking to live an “authentic” life in the Tuscany countryside, “The Wonders” captures lives rarely seen on film. Winning the 2014 Grand Prix at Cannes, “The Wonders” opens in Los Angeles for an exclusive one-week run at the Nuart Theatre, Friday, November 27.
German Wolfgang (Sam Louwick) and Italian Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher) are parents to four daughters. They are beekeepers that harvest honey and live off the land in a large, partially crumbling manor. Having no sons, Wolfgang has bestowed upon his eldest daughter Gelsomina (Alexandra Lungu) all the skills and responsibilities of head beekeeper and honey harvester. But Gelsomina is also coming to an age, where she wants to explore more than the life her parents have offered.
Unexpectedly, she gets the opportunity in two ways. The first is through a troubled teenage boy that the family takes in (for assistance money and to help harvest). The second via a popular reality TV show looking for wondrous people who keep the past alive.
Down by sea after a session with the bees, Gelsomina and her sisters all spy a commercial being shot for this reality series, “The Countryside of Wonders.” The sisters are immediately infatuated with the reality host, Milly Cantena (played by Monica Bellucci), who portrays some type of mystical goddess. It is in this moment that they get a glimpse into a magical world much different than their own, and for Gelsomina, things begin to shift. And this doesn’t sit well for Wolfgang who prefers his beloved daughter to never grown beyond the hive.
Director Rohrwacher writes in the production notes:
“The film is set in my hometown and among my countrymen … (between the central regions of Umbria-Lazio and Tuscany) and bees are the animals that I know best. I also know a lot about cross-cultural families, not just because of my own German-Italian family but because there are many in my region … the story and the characters are not autobiographical, but certainly familiar to me.”
Because of Rohrwacher’s innate knowledge, “The Wonders” feels truthful in its naturalism. It’s as if we’re watching a documentary (in the best sense) in that even though there is a fantastical charm, the story feels grounded. Young Alexandra Lungu is amazing. The flawed, but loving parents, Sam Louwick and Alba Rohrwacher (the director’s real-life sister), and their housemate/friend Coco (Sabine Timoteo), present moving portraits of those caught on society’s fringes.
“The Wonders” is that rare film that fills you with wonder.
“The Wonders” is 111 minutes, Not Rated and opens November 27 in Los Angeles at the Nuart Theatre.