The Movie Waffler New Release Review - LA CHIMERA | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - LA CHIMERA

La Chimera review
In 1980s Tuscany, a young Englishman uses his divining powers to plunder Etruscan treasures.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher

Starring: Josh O'Connor, Carol Duarte, Vincenzo Nemolato, Alba Rohrwacher, Isabella Rossellini

La Chimera poster

Italian filmmakers have long had a unique ability to make the nonsensical profound, but also to make profundity nonsensical. This curious dichotomy is evident in Alice Rohrwacher's La Chimera, an insightful yet silly movie that's unapologetically Italian in its disdain for narrative cohesion and its favouring of flavour and feeling. I'm not entirely sure if it's a "good" movie, but it's one that's easy to get lost in. It has the chaotic, disruptive energy of a Lambretta ridden at full speed through a herd of sheep. That, in my book, is a good thing.

La Chimera review

This very Italian film is ironically centred on an Englishman. Arthur (Josh O'Connor) is an archaeologist who has somehow ended up using his skills for nefarious means in 1980s Tuscany. With the aid of a divining rod he can locate buried Etruscan treasures. This gift doesn't seem to have proven profitable however, as he lives in a shack on the edge of the estate of Flora (Isabella Rossellini), a doting elderly aristocrat whose daughter, Beniamina (Yile Vianello), Arthur was once romantically involved with. The movie is peppered with flashbacks of a beatific Beniamina in the manner of Kevin Costner's recollections of Suzy Amis in Fandango, another movie about a sullen loner leading a ragtag group in digging up treasure of sorts. Perhaps it's because he has to share his ill-gotten gains with the various hangers on who make up Arthur's unstable round table, not to mention how he's paid a relative pittance by Spartaco, a shady unseen buyer in the city who knows Arthur has nowhere else to go with his pilfered loot.

Arthur's talent doesn't seem to have brought him much joy either. He walks around with a hangdog expression in an increasingly grubby white suit, like the protagonist of a Graham Greene novel, snapping at everyone he meets like a street dog that's been kicked by one passerby too many. He does however appear to brighten up in the sunny presence of Italia (Carol Duarte), a young woman who is hiding her two children in the home of Flora, for whom she works as a free housekeeper while ostensibly taking singing lessons. The movie never addresses this, but Duarte is a Brazilian actress (best know for her stunning turn in The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao) and with her mixed-race infant son we might suspect Italia is an immigrant who has chosen that name in an over-reaching attempt to fit in. Regardless of her origins, she's as much of an outsider as Arthur here, and she provides the film with its heart. We can tell she's been beaten down by life just as much if not more than Arthur, but her positive outlook stands in stark contrast to his woe-is-me countenance. Kicked out of Flora's home when her children are discovered, Italia moves into a decrepit, defunct railway station which with the aid of some fellow squatters, she turns into a home. While Arthur is plundering Italy's history for profit, Italia is using it to build a life. It's the difference between immigration and colonialism.

La Chimera review

This is one of the few subtle points made in Rohrwacher's film, which is often guilty of ladling its scorn for men like Arthur with a spoon as deep as the Etruscan vases he digs out of the ground. In case we didn't get the point that stealing is bad, Rohrwacher has characters sing songs with lyrics that make it clear how she feels; others break the fourth wall with a wrecking ball; and in one particularly cheesy moment, Arthur has a nightmare in which random Italians he has previously met ask him what happened to their artefacts, as though he robbed their very homes.

At times the general realism is broken by some decidedly odd but undeniably ballsy choices, like speeding up scenes of Arthur and his not so noble knights being chased by the cops, as though it's the closing scene of an episode of Benny Hill or a Monkees montage. The mysterious Spartaco is straight out of a 1960s spy movie, only short of stroking a cat on their lap.

La Chimera review

I'm unconvinced if it all really amounts to anything substantial, but La Chimera is often intoxicating, the sort of movie that makes you feel like you're on an adventurous holiday. O'Connor and Duarte are a pair of beguiling stars and despite whatever disdain we might hold for Arthur we can't help but root for their romance, which we suspect might shake the Englishman out of his stupor. But men are idiots when it comes to realising that sometimes the real treasure is right in front of us.

La Chimera is in UK/ROI cinemas from May 10th.

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