In Alice Rohrwacher’s second feature, the Italian filmmaker draws upon more personal experiences for The Wonders. The film tells the story of an isolated family of beekeepers – with its primary focus on teenage daughter Gelsomina – over the course of one summer. Much of their cramped-yet-traditionalist lifestyle is disrupted by the arrival of troubled German adolescent Martin, brought on as a farmhand, and their encounter with Milly (Monica Bullucci) a presenter of a low-budget show celebrating Etruscan culture. It is through these encounters that a tension between the family’s patriarch and Gelsomina’s curious actions is sparked.
The narrative’s aesthetic flow reflects the family’s oneness with their natural surroundings. This allows the audience to absorb the environment due to its lack of exposition, and consequently foregrounds their dynamic, placing this onus to decipher who is who to the audience, with rewarding results. The hand-held camera technique further emphases the naturalistic approach, as does the lack of a non-diegetic musical score.
The film shows a primary tension between tradition and modernity that offers no clear answers, and it does not suggest either is beneficial or detrimental to contemporary life. The voices of these concerns – notably the father’s argument with a fellow farmer over their usage of pesticides – look more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary than a fictionalised setting. This is partly due to the performances by the family unit; as they are either non-professional or lesser-known actors they can behave significantly more naturally than a usual cast would. These facets are greatly noticeable during the show: Bullucci is a notable actress in both Hollywood and art-house cinema, and her character Milly has a confidence that derives from a world of modernity, whereas Gelsomina and her younger sisters’ characters are not played by known professional actors, and are unfamiliar with the modern world. In short, the film experiments with this multitude of tensions between tradition and modernity through the eyes of a farmer’s teenage daughter.
The Wonders is a sweet and naturalistic coming-of-age story that offers no clear resolution to its tensions. Filmmaker Rohrmacher captures great nuanced performances from the family unit, which are made further possible by a script that sounds semi-improvised. This naturally subtle and, above all, sweet film about learning the conflicts of different cultural attitudes will offer the audience plenty to ponder upon leaving the theatre.
The Wonders is released nationwide on 17th July 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Wonders here: