“Alice Rohrwacher, director of the much admired first feature Corpo Celeste, has come to Cannes with a gentle, humorous, and sweet-natured coming-of-age story,” begins the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “It is a light and diverting piece work set in the northern Italian countryside: there is charm, though it is a little sentimental and undemanding, without the real emotional power that many were expecting from Rohrbacher.”
“Here’s a lyrical and warm portrait of an unusual family,” writes Time Out‘s Dave Calhoun. “You could say this family is stranger than most. Hippy farmers Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher) and her unnamed partner (Sam Louvyck) live with their four daughters and an adult friend, Coco (Sabine Timoteo), in a rundown farmhouse in the scorched Italian countryside—speaking a mix of Italian, German and French. We meet the family at crisis point: money is tighter than ever and the parents are at each other’s throats. To complicate things further, there’s a new addition to the family to deal with, a troubled and near-silent German foster child.”
“Loosely based on Rohrwacher’s childhood in a multicultural family (her mother is Italian, her father German) with a beekeeping business,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve, “this charmingly naturalistic slice of life pivots on the desire of 11-year-old Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), the eldest of four daughters, to enter her family in Countryside Wonders, a cheesy TV contest hosted by a platinum-wigged beauty (Monica Bellucci, the only star in a cast of mostly non-pros) and designed to showcase, with maximum condescension, the most ‘traditional’ clan in the region…. It’s a glancing, episodic picture, with none of the crass symbolism or stern moralism that tarred Rohrwacher’s previous effort, Corpo Celeste.”
“So much is encircled by this film’s seemingly modest reach: the slow onset of adulthood, but also the fading of the old ways,” writes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “The film was photographed not on digital cameras, but Super-16 film stock: a dying way of seeing dying things, and yet everything it captures seems to flare and crackle with life.”
“Rohrwacher listens to her characters, lets them take the story in unexpected directions, at the same time building resonance out of recurrent symbols and triggers,” writes Lee Marshall for Screen Daily. “Bees are both threats and wonders: they cannot be relied on to stay in the hive, but can also be persuaded to perform miracles—merging from Gelsomina’s mouth in a party trick that gives the film its Italian-release poster image.”
“It’s a sympathetic portrait, but Rohrwacher neither glorifies their peasant lifestyle or condemns the economic climate that is slowly squeezing them dry,” notes Adam Woodward at Little White Lies. In the Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young senses “a taste of Ermanno Olmi’s peasant classic The Tree of Wooden Clogs as well as a bit of nostalgic hippiedom in this farewell to the land.” For Variety‘s Jay Weissberg, it’s “an appealing yet oddly insubstantial work, like an early impressionist sketch in need of a little more focus.”
For Barbara Scharres, writing at RogerEbert.com, the “most engaging aspect of the film is the fact that Rohrwacher portrays a family that feels safe. They’re poor; their livelihood is constantly threatened; they argue and sulk; they’re not perfect, and yet they’re safe in each other’s love. There aren’t many films here that put that concept forward.”
“The Wonders, dedicated to the late German co-producer of the film, Karl ‘Baumi’ Baumgartner, is the visible result of lengthy team work,” notes Camillo di Marco at Cineuropa. “From the head of casting Chiara Polizzi, who met 2,000 young girls, to the acting coach Tatiana Lepore, to whom the producer Carlo Cresto-Dina had allowed a long trial period, to the magnificent work of the director of photography Hélène Louvart.”
Nick Vivarelli interviews Rohrwacher for Variety.
Updates, 5/19: John Bleasdale at CineVue: “The Wonders is a complex and nuanced illustration of a family trying to live by their own standards—whilst only partly failing.”
Camillo de Marco talks with Rohrwacher for Cineuropa.
“A gentle and textured coming-of-age story, it’s undoubtedly one of the stronger competition films to date,” writes Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist, “but we found it a little too neat and … Sundance-y, for want of a better word, to love it unreservedly.”
Updates, 5/21: “Rohrwacher tells a slight coming of age tale infused with melancholy, hardship but not without a sense of beauty,” writes Ben Croll at Twitch.
At Filmmaker, Ariston Anderson has five questions for Rohrwacher.
Updates, 6/2: “There seemed to be surprise in some critical circles that The Wonders won the Grand Prix, second place after the Palme d’Or,” notes Miriam Bale in the Notebook. “Could that surprise be in part because most critics at Cannes, that I encountered anyway, were men?” Gender aside, “another reason why The Wonders was a favorite of a jury of filmmakers and actors, maybe more so than of critics, is that Rohrwacher is a filmmaker’s director, like Fellini. Fellini has consistently rated higher on the director’s poll than the critic’s poll in Sight and Sound‘s Best Films poll. Fellini and Rohrwacher both achieve things in their dreamlike scene-making that directors can’t help watching and wondering, ‘How’d they do that?’ (Saint Laurent and Jauja on the other hand, both strike me as critic’s films, meant somewhat derogatorily as interesting conceptually but emotionally bereft and aesthetically disconnected.)”
“From Bertolucci’s fetishistic idealization of peasantry in Novecento to Pasolini‘s sensual absolution of the underclasses, passing by Ermanno Olmi’s tender obsession with pastoral stories, Italian cinema has consistently and naively romanticized non-industrial scenarios,” writes Giovanni Vimercati for Film Comment. “Neorealism too had insistently idealized the supposed virtues of poor men and women while making always sure never to investigate the structural causes of poverty, let alone depicting its real, ugly face. Needless to say, none of these directors ever woke up at five in the morning to hoe the ground under the scorching sun all day long and end up in bed with blisters on their hands and very little in their stomachs. Ironically, it took a (literally) aristocratic director like Luchino Visconti to portray accurately the hardships of pre-industrial life and the provincial hypocrisy within its communities in La Terra Trema…. With the dreams of green capitalism growing in popularity at the same speed as organic breweries and biological grocery stores pop up, The Wonders is a timely counterpoint to their ambiguous ideology and ultimate unfeasibility. Like a psychic wound, calmly unnerving, the film injures (or maybe unhinges) the romantic devices of the green economy, gently debunking its myths.”