The Wonders ****

by Andres Solar

Drama with natural tone, humor, is a can't-miss winner.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“The Wonders,” the 2015 Grand Prix Winner at Cannes, literally leaves you in the dark for moments at a time during its opening sequence. Italian writer/director Alice Rohrwacher (“Corpo Celeste” [2011]) uses this to introduce the poetic nature of the film. Soon, and for the full duration, the movie buzzes and shimmers with life energy. The wise, young director understands the importance of contrast, though, and to begin she presents a clean black canvas.

From there “The Wonders” lights up with the ultra-practical physical constructs and daily regimens of a family who keeps bees and produces honey. Living on (and from) the farm are the quasi-patriarch, his wife, their four daughters, and a friend/employee.

The eldest daughter, Gelsomina, experiencing the pains and wonders of early adolescence, must also attend to her considerable responsibilities in the family and in the family business. Yet she is not spared the slashing emotional wounds administered by her father, a domineering, sometimes sexist brute.

So, when the girl and her little sisters stumble upon a mysterious white angel/reality show host (Monica Bellucci, “Malena” [2000]), they are beguiled by this vision of womanly splendor. Gelsomina feels she has discovered a great deity of womanhood; one who can perhaps deliver her from her pain and free her from the mundane.

If the traditions, rites, and rituals in “The Wonders” ever approach religious territory, it would be of a strange sect that lies close with both secularism and polytheism (Belluci’s Milly Catena being a goddess amongst other, less visible goddesses and gods). Rohrwacher certainly puts tradition and inner spirit to complex tests, while avoiding all things preachy or facile.

The references to, and symbology of, ancient Etruscan civilization suggest a timelessness in Rohrwacher’s view of these conflicts and relationships. Families have always had to decide how much to contribute to their community and how much to keep for themselves, and thus families have always disagreed about which ratio is most noble.

Perhaps this remarkable film is at its most fearless and tenderhearted when Rohrwacher’s camera turns toward the two mischievous little ones of the clan. She shows their freedom of language, association, action, and spirit, and these are wholly refreshing and bracing to behold.

In her bringing a “reality show” to these environs, the talented writer/director frames clearly the popular phenomenon pertinent to thousands of people eagerly queuing up to freely surrender their dignities for a mere chance to realize their proverbial “15 minutes” on television.

“The Wonders” is a lovely surreal painting—a diptych contrast between ages-old agronomies and today’s hypermedia ubiquities (among other fascinations). There’s a grand parable about grandeur here, with a sprinkling of glances at human vanity.

This fine, sublime artwork by Alice Rohrwacher proves there is nothing more fake than reality television and nothing more real than naturalist surrealism.

Andres Solar reviews new fare with an emphasis on art house and indie for Punch Drunk Movies. He would love to see Burt Reynolds in another Paul Thomas Anderson movie but understands that it probably “ain’t gonna happen.”

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