The eldest child in the shaggily maintained household of The Wonders is named Gelsomina. The reference to Fellini’s La Strada might be confirmed by the photo of Giulietta Masina’s character pasted into a production sketch on the Italian film’s website. There you can also learn that this story’s cluttered farmhouse previously belonged not to beekeepers but to five wild horses, who slept in the barn and ate in the garden. Something about that last detail evokes the natural sense of mystery that graces Alice Rohrwacher’s ineffably lovely second feature, a coming-of-age story that conjures an effortless naturalism.
The teenage Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) helps take care of the bees with her overbearing father, Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), who rules over the household, which includes her mother as well as her three sisters and aunt. The family lives in the shadow of his decrees and schemes (like taking in a foster child in order to receive state benefit money), and it is his strict back-to-the-land leftism that’s led them to this overgrown rural backwater. Dutiful as she is, Gelsomina harbors some unsatisfied yearning that’s uncovered by the possibility of appearing on a hokey Italian TV showcase of rural traditions (hosted by Monica Bellucci). But this is only one of the little dramas that hum along in any big family, here in scenes that are elegantly attenuated without turning anecdotal or feeling inconsequential.
Rohrwacher and DP Hélène Louvart, who teamed up on her Catholicism-focused 2011 debut Corpo Celeste, shot on 16mm. The softly vibrant colors suggest an earlier era and an organic earthiness that helps the film truly live up to its title.