Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Cannes review of The Wonders

Alice Rohrwacher’s family drama is pleasant enough, but it lacks direction and purpose

Sat, May 17, 2014, 21:42




Directed by Alice Rohrwacher

Starring Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Alba Rohrwacher, Sabine Timoteo, Agnese Graziani, Luis Huilca Logrono, Monica Bellucci

100 min, in competition

There is no doubt that Alice Rorhwacher has an original voice. This drifty, ephemeral picture has a spirit all its own. You get the sense of a film forming itself organically from the beautiful landscapes of Tuscany. The piece’s abundant flaws probably stem from that same aesthetic, but, whatever the reason, The Wonders never properly engages. The characters are too ill-defined. The story (such as it is) never properly settles down. No forward momentum is established.

Drawing from her own background, Ms Rorhwacher tells us the tale of a family living disorganised lives in a pretty part of Italy. Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), a constantly angry German, is not doing a magnificent job of running a honey business while caring for four daughters, his wife Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, the director’s sister) and an unrelated young woman named Coco (Sabine Timoteo).

This is a film in which a great deal seems about to happen. The family take in Martin, a young man who has been in trouble with the law. Now, this could be interesting. Some class of romance may, perhaps, drag the girls into coming-of-age traumas. Then Martin more or less vanishes into the undergrowth for the next hour or so. A Felliniesque Monica Belucci drifts in with a film crew to promote a somewhat implausible competition aimed at finding an ideal traditional farming family. Wolfgang associates with some reprobates. The stories either peter out completely or lie dormant for large parts of the meandering action. Nobody wants this sort of project to follow a boring Hollywood arc, but just the tiniest bit of narrative order would be welcome.

Rorhwacher also needed to work harder at defining the children’s personalities. Rather than emerging as individuals, the girls move through the film as a busy homogenous crowd. No blame should be put the way of the excellent young actors. Carefully coaxed by a director who knows the area, they are all agreeably natural and attractively unforced. But none of them has the material to create characters worth heeding.

All this is made doubling infuriating by the occasional moments of affecting poignancy that pepper the film. A crisis in the honey laboratory leads to some disgusting improvised crisis management. The arrival of a camel to the farm triggers an delightful outburst of childish glee. At such points, one finds oneself willing the picture — dreamily shot by Helen Louvart – to find its purpose and decide upon a direction. Then something we thought was about to happen doesn’t actually happen.

For all that, there was quite a deal of positive chatter on La Croisette following this evening’s screening. Prizes are not out of the question.