Life in the country

Taking an intimate, almost documentary-like approach, writer/director Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders (originally titled Le meraviglie) is yet another variation on the coming-of-age storyline, as seen through the eyes of Maria Alexandra Lungu, a talented youngster making her screen debut.

Lungu plays Gelsomino, the oldest of four daughters working alongside their parents on a farm in the Tuscan countryside that specializing in producing natural honey. The family is struggling financially, much to the concern of mother Angelica (Rohrwacher’s sister Alba) and the frustration of father Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), who appears – for whatever reason – to be losing his grip on reality.

A few events shake up the day-to-day drudgery of tending the farm and the bees. The first is the arrival of Martin (Luis Huilca, also a newcomer), a withdrawn boy who comes to stay with the family. The second is the arrival of “Countryside Wonders,” a reality-TV series that holds an annual competition among the residents of the region. Wolfgang – again, for whatever reason – is adamant about not participating, but the wise-beyond-her years Gelsomino recognizes it as a way of possibly saving the farm.

The performances, including newcomer Agnese Graziani (also a newcomer) as the second-oldest daughter Marinella, constantly vying for Gelsomino and her parents’ attention, and Monica Bellucci as the glamorous hostess of “Countryside Wonders,” are nicely rendered, as is Helene Louvart’s picturesque cinematography, yet The Wonders avoids (intentionally?) confronting its character’s issues directly. One might well be expecting something more come the end.

Since the success of last year’s Oscarwinning Birdman, vague and ethereal endings are currently in vogue (see Clouds of Sils Maria and Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter) , and The Wonders likewise fades out on an ambiguous note. (In Italian with English subtitles)

The Wonders opens Friday !

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