Cannes 2014 – Competition
Cannes 2014 – Winner – Grand Jury Prize
Nothing will be the same at the end of this summer for Gelsomina and her three younger sisters. She is the designated heir of the strange, secluded kingdom that her father constructed around them to protect his family from “the end of the world”. An extraordinary summer, when the strict rules that hold the family together, are beginning to break: in part due to the arrival of Martin, a German boy on a youth rehabilitation program, and in part the local community’s participation in a TV competition for big prizes “Village Wonders”, presented by the mysterious Milly Catena.
An original and charming countryside romp from the director of HEAVENLY BODY (CORPO CELESTE).
Maria Alexandra Lungu
A rich, strange mix of coming-of-age film and troubled modern pastoral… Delving partly into the director’s own family background, The Wonders (Le Meraviglie) captures something profound about the passage to adulthood as a mix of hormonal drama and dream state. Anchored by a fine cast, dominated by the compellingly natural performance of first-time Romanian-Italian actress Alexandra Lungu in the central role of Gelsomina, this resonant film will place Rohrwacher firmly in the canon of Italian directors to watch… Rohrwacher listens to her characters, lets them take the story in unexpected directions, at the same time building resonance out of recurrent symbols and triggers. One of these is the slow drip of honey from a vat into a bucket that needs changing before it’s full – a country ritual, a promise of sweetness, but also a distillation of paternal tyranny. Bees are both threats and wonders: they cannot be relied on to stay in the hive, but can also be persuaded to perform miracles – emerging from Gelsomina’s mouth in a party trick that gives the film its Italian-release poster image. The film is also about the way language unites and divides. Gelso’s parents talk to each other in French when they don’t want the kids to hear; he reverts to German when angry; Martin doesn’t speak at all, but can whistle beautifully… Cinematographer Helene Louvart’s tactile photography channels both the poetry and harshness of the rural setting, sensitively building up a point of view that is never univocally Gelso’s, as if mirroring the protagonist’s own transitional status: half a part of the family that nurtured her, half becoming her own woman. Rarely has the suspended state of pre-adolescence been captured so instinctively on film.
— Lee Marshall, SCREEN INTERNATIONAL
A curiously resonant tale outside the norm affirms the importance and inherent mystery of the natural world… Alice Rohrwacher’s second feature closely observes a family of bee-keepers who fight to preserve traditional agriculture… Wise beyond its years, like the teenage protag Gelsomina, Le Meraviglie (The Wonders) is a wistful but no-tears swan song recounting the disappearance of traditional rural life-style in Italy. It’s also the story of an inexperienced country girl looking to bust out of her family’s limited horizons as bee-keepers and honey-makers, and in this it makes a perfect bookend to Italian writer-director Alice Rohrwacher’s well-received directing bow Corpo Celeste (Heavenly Body)… The tone hovers mysteriously between dream and reality and Rohrwacher pins the film on stark and striking images, like the haunting one of bees crawling over the expressionless face of a young woman… There’s a taste of Ermanno Olmi’s peasant classic The Tree of Wooden Clogs as well as a bit of nostalgic hippiedom in this farewell to the land, though given the odd assortment of people involved – a German paterfamilias and the director’s real-life sister Alba Rohrwacher playing his strong-minded, French-speaking wife – these are not descendants of local farmers, as in the Olmi film. In fact suspicion governs their relations with their neighbors, who use pesticides on crops to lethal effect on their bees… Young Alexandra Lungu is well-cast in the main role and exploits a modest touch of narcissism in some humorous song and dance numbers where she holds center stage. Playing the isolationist father who is furious at the world’s intrusion but has no way to stop the momentum of events, Flemish actor and dancer Sam Louwyck lends aggressive-shy complexity to the relationship with his daughter. As the mother, Alba Rohrwacher has a surprisingly small role in the story, but acquits it warmly and wisely. Monica Bellucci squeezes a lot of fun out of her brief screen time, too… French cinematographer Helene Louvart, who also shot Corpo Celeste, boldly opts for a realistic look that doesn’t hide the ugliness of peasant life in all its poverty, cloudy skies and mud.
— Deborah Young, VARIETY
5 out of 5 stars… Alice Rohrwacher's bitter-sweet Cannes contender about the onset of adulthood and the fading of old ways is as powerful as it is enchanting… a mesmerising coming-of-age tale: small and sweet in every good way, but alive with a power that seems to surge up from deep beneath its sun-roughened landscape… Alexandra Lungu (as teenager Gelsomina) is a first-time actress, perfectly cast, with eyes that give almost nothing away, and a party trick Dalí would have loved, in which she holds live bees in her mouth and slowly lets them creep out, one by one, from between her lips… So much is encircled by this film’s seemingly modest reach: the slow onset of adulthood, but also the fading of the old ways, and the slight jarringness of incomers such as Gelsomina and her family being their last and keenest practitioners. The film was photographed not on digital cameras, but Super-16 film stock: a dying way of seeing dying things, and yet everything it captures seems to flare and crackle with life. There’s so much here to remind you of the Italian neorealist pictures, particularly in Rohrwacher’s brilliant deployment of her mostly young and inexperienced cast, but it also shares an underlying magic with Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbour Totoro, the great Studio Ghibli animations about children whose rural lives have a quiet profundity that transcends incident or plot. The film comes and goes without commotion, but its magic settles on you as softly and as steadily as dust.
— Robbie Collin, THE TELEGRAPH (UK)
Thoroughly engrossing… This is a portrait of childhood more than anything else; everything and nothing happens. The satisfying aspect of this little low-key film is that its crises and its high points are brief and life is ongoing… The most engaging aspect of the film is the fact that Rohrwacher portrays a family that feels safe. They’re poor; their livelihood is constantly threatened; they argue and sulk; they’re not perfect, and yet they’re safe in each other’s love. There aren’t many films here that put that concept forward.
— Barbara Scharres, RogerEbert.com (USA)
Here’s a lyrical and warm portrait of an unusual family living a scrappy, hand-to-mouth existence in the Italian countryside… a personal, intimate riffing on her (the director’s) own childhood, celebrating the wonderful strangeness of families – equally capable of love and destructiveness, happiness and despair, often all at the same time… Rohrwacher shoots all this in an easy, keep-on-rolling documentary style. Filming on grainy 16mm, she relies on natural light, and there’s a relaxed everyday intimacy and immediacy to the whole thing, the cast giving apparently effortless performances… Rohrwacher draws us into this unusual world with the ease of someone who knows exactly what they’re talking about, neither judging nor celebrating and, at her best, just looking with tenderness and a winning sense of humour.
— Dave Calhoun, TIME OUT LONDON (UK)