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New Release Review - THE WONDERS

Struggling to keep the family farm, a teenage girl enters her family in a TV competition without their knowledge.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher

Starring: Alba Rohrwacher, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Monica Bellucci



"The Wonders coasts on a breezy charm to a point. There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours than in the Italian sun. and if you've ever had a curiosity about beekeeping, you'll learn a lot about the honey trade here."



Those of us who lack the resources to attend the Cannes film festival have become accustomed to the long wait for those enticing award winners to arrive on general release. It's usually November before the first crop begins to arrive, and several titles that competed in the 2014 edition are still awaiting release in many parts of the world. Less than two months after this year's festival, however, we have the release of the winner of this year's Grand Prix, the competition's 'runner up' prize to the prestigious Palme d'Or.
Writer-director Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders takes its name from 'Countryside Wonders', a fictional reality TV show in which rural Italian farmers compete for a prize on the strength of their produce. 12-year-old Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) stumbles across this show when it visits the back of beyond region of Italy her bee-keeping family resides in, encountering the show's beautiful host (Monica Bellucci), whose glamourous demeanour is a world away from Gelsomina's lifestyle. Her German father Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) is having none of it, despite desperately needing the prize money on offer to keep the farm in operation. Instead, his hare-brained scheme to raise money involves taking in a German juvenile delinquent for the summer. Ignoring her father's protestations, Gelsomina applies for the show regardless.
Rohrwacher's film reads as part autobiography, part allegory. The filmmaker grew up in a rural German-Italian family like the one depicted here, and Gelsomina would seem to be her avatar. The movie also seems to comment on the dire situation Italy has found itself in over recent decades. It's all too easy to draw a comparison between Wolfgang and the incompetence of Italian politics, and when Wolfgang blows his money on the baffling purchase of a camel as his farm is about to fall out from under his grasp, the metaphor is all too clear.
The Wonders coasts on a breezy charm to a point, but as it lurches toward its inevitable conclusion we begin to lose interest in Rohrwacher's tale. We've seen this story type handled better in movies like The Squid & the Whale and Together, and Rohrwacher's film lacks the memorable characters of those films. There are of course worse ways to spend a couple of hours than in the Italian sun. and if you've ever had a curiosity about beekeeping, you'll learn a lot about the honey trade here.



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