A Quiet Slice of Life: A Review of ‘The Wonders’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - March 26, 2015
A Quiet Slice of Life: A Review of ‘The Wonders’

Movies don’t always need to hit you with a flourish, they can just come and give you a quiet yet oddly compelling slice of life when you least expect it.  The Wonders is that kind of movie as it presents us with a beautifully unassuming look at life in rural Tuscany.

You wouldn’t think it on first glance, but this rural farming family is a little different than most. Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) may just be a twelve year old girl, but in many ways she is the defacto head of the house hold.  She minds after her sisters and leads them all as they work with their father Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) in the fields farming honey for which she has a special knack.  They don’t like outsiders and they vehemently keep to themselves whenever possible.  Wolfgang thinks he has the lives of his entire family planned out, despite the entire countryside be burned up and abused by pesticides and he scrambles to maintain his vision of rural life, while Gelsomina stumbles upon a local TV contest, that just might be a chance at a better life for her entire family, all be it a different one from Wolfgang’s stubborn vision.

It’s not really about anything other than offering up a glimpse at life, and it really doesn’t care as The Wonders is an oddly engaging and often beautiful ode to the magic of rural life that is being chipped away by modernization and the 21st century.


Writer/Director Alice Rohrwacher comes it all in such a subtle and nuanced way that it feels like a movie that is from another era.  Almost like an impressionist painting we gets hints of character and story arc, just enough to keep the narrative moving but it requires us to fill in the blanks and bring our own opinions and experiences to the table.  She shoots the countryside in what feels like a hazy dream as we follow these characters who are fighting off the outside world in every which way that they can.  It’s not an issue of being scared, but there way works for them no matter how maddening it can get with the husband’s eccentric hijinx.  It’s a story of adaptation, how it’s a skill we can never overlook since to an individual we need it to survive,  but we don’t necessarily have to do it at the expense of things that we love.  It’s admirable to want to live by your own standards, but no one will ever be 100% successful at it, it just isn’t how the world works.

Maria Alexandra Lungu as Gelsomina quite simply carries the entire movie.  She has a commanding presence on the screen as she watches over her sisters, struggles for the affections of her father that seem to sag when he takes in a young troubled boy to help with the beekeeping.  Of this entire cast of characters, she is the only one who is seemingly thinking ahead and understanding that how her family might want the world to work and how it actually does are two different things.  Only the iconic Monica Bellucci manages to stand out along side Lungu as the enigmatic TV host for this contest that feels like a pagan version of American Idol, as Lungu’s character looks for some kind of female role model or icon that is outside of her own family.  Their brief relationship serves as a lesson for young Gelsomina as she comes to grips with her own womanhood and how the outside world really works.

Ultimately, The Wonders isn’t the kind of film that tries to hit you over the head with a grandiose message or complex story.  It is just a uniquely flavored slice of life and a lot of fun to take in.

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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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