'Wonders' is a nearly real look at a beekeeping family
Alice Rohrwacher's "The Wonders" doesn't conform to Hollywood's conventional plotted story. Parts of this hyper-realistic drama could pass for a documentary on the lives of a family of Italian beekeepers in rural Tuscany.
The main character, teenager Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), is the eldest of five girls to a gruff, no-nonsense beekeeper named Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) and his wife Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher), an empathetic mom who frequently acts as a buffer between Dad and the girls, especially during summer when school's out, and harvesting honey becomes a daily mandate.
Their unhurried, unexciting daily routines become interrupted by the arrivals of two outsiders. A German juvenile delinquent, Martin (Luis Huilca Logrono), comes to help Dad with the honey harvest. And a government check for sponsoring a ward of the state doesn't hurt, especially now that new laws demand Wolfgang update the conditions at his homemade factory.
Second, a knockout reality TV show hostess named Milly Catena (Monica Bellucci, who should have been the lead Bond girl in the current 007 film "SPECTRE") shoots a promo near Gelsomina's home. She's part of a team searching for Italy's "Most Traditional Family" for big prizes and a TV appearance.
No surprise. Gelsomina becomes captivated by the prospect of being on the show. Dad pooh-poohs it.
We might guess how a traditional Hollywood movie would handle these elements. But Rohrwacher emphasizes character over plot, emotional substance over visual style. So, Gelsomina's growing sense of competition with the new boy becomes a thread, as does her increasing need for independence.
"The Wonders" tells us much more about the beekeeping business than we might want to know. The camera captures the effort and time it takes to produce a jar of the sticky stuff.
It also touches upon the necessity of bees, and how the thoughtless application of approved insecticides can easily wipe out a hive, and destroy a family's business.
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Opens at the Music Box, Chicago. In Italian with subtitles. Not rated; for general audiences. 100 minutes.