Wonders, The (Le Meraviglie): Cannes Fest Winner at Telluride, Toronto, New York Film Fests

le_meraviglie_posterItalian director Alice Rohrwacher makes a huge leap forward with her second film, “The Wonders” (Le Meraviglie”) an always sharply observed, often lyrical chronicle of one unusual family, living a shabby existence in the Italian countryside.

World-premiering at the 2014 Cannes Film Fest, where it won the Special Jury Award, The Wonders will play all the fall festivals (Telluride, New York)

Rohrwacher first burst onto the movie scene with “Corpo Celeste,” which also played the global film festival circuit. “The Wonders” is a better, more personal and intimate feature, perhaps because it’s a fictionalized chronicle of her own childhood.

le_meraviglie_3Marked by an open, non-judgmental approach, The Wonders celebrates the family institution in all its diversity, strangeness, and eccentricities.

This tale’s family shows in equal measure love and destruction, happiness and despair, often all at the same time.

Farmers Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher) and her partner (Sam Louvyck) live with their four daughters and a mature friend named Coco (Sabine Timoteo), in a rundown farmhouse in the scorched Italian countryside,

le_meraviglie_2The family is at a crisis, to say the least, money is scarce and the frustrated parents seem to argue and bicker all the time. Things get stranger and more complicated when a troubled and near-silent German foster child joins the already large and troubled clan.

When a local TV station runs a nostalgic contest, ‘Countryside Wonders’ with a cherished prize for local producers, Gelsomina (Alexandra Lungu), the eldest girl (who’s 12) decides to participate in an effort to help her stressed father to keep the bees and harvest honey.

Gelsomina and her sisters are afraid of upsetting their temperamental father, who is known for rage. Their mother feels the same way—she and the children can only be themselves when he is not around, like during their swim trip to the local lake.

le_meraviglie_1This film is less successful when is plot gets contrived.  Thus, the nominal climax, which brings together the foster child and the TV show (Monica Bellucci plays the presenter), is less effective than the earlier chapters

Rohrwacher draws the viewers into her particular milieu with the ease, intimacy, and smoothness of an insider.  Shot on 16mm, and relying on natural light, “The Wonders” achieves its universal meaning by exploring the joys, sorrows, and beauties inherent in the simplest everyday experience.