(director/writer: Alice Rohrwacher; screenwriters: Carmela Covino/Marco Pettenello; cinematographer: Hélène Louvart; editor: Nelly Quettier; music: Monteverdi/Mozart/Kraftwerk electro-pop/Italian rock by Franco Battiato and Vasco Rossi; cast: Josh O’Connor (Arthur), Carol Duarte (Italia), Isabella Rossellini (Flora), Alba Rohrwacher (art curator and fence called Spartaco), Vincenzo Nemolato (Pirro); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Carlo Cresto-Dina/Manuela Melissano; Neon; 2023-Italy/France/Switzerland-in Italian & some English, with English subtitles)

“It’s a beguiling film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The brilliant Italian director Alice Rohrwacher (“The Wonders”/”Happy at Lazzaro”) co-writes with Carmela Covino and Marco Pettenello this fantasy dramedy on a lost love. It’s a beguiling film.

It’s set in the
Riparbella section of Tuscany in the 1980s.

The morose and slovenly dressed in a rumpled white linen suit Englishman Arthur (
Josh O’Connor, in a terrific performance) always has a cigarette dangling in his mouth. He is a former archeological scholar, who has just been released from an Italian prison and is on a train to rejoin his small-time gang of grave-robbers and farmers in the Etruscan countryside.

While working in Italy, he befriended the elderly and frail fallen aristocrat Flora (
Isabella Rossellini). She lives in a crumbling villa with three harpy daughters. Arthur fell madly in love with her daughter Beniamina. But she has long ago mysteriously vanished and is probably dead. Arthur has become a lost soul who badly needs her, even if only to make contact with her in the spiritual world.

Arthur has used his academic knowledge and intuitive intuitions to join an eccentric criminal gang of homeless grave-robbers to look for valuable Etruscan antiquities buried in the ground in Flora’s small country town, He uses a dowsing rod to find these riches. The mystical Arthur envisions such sightings through the art of chimeras (dreams). The gang sell their illicit findings for cheap to a shady fence, called
Spartaco (Alba Rohrwacher, the director’s younger sister), who provides them with false papers vouchsafing the artifacts come from the estate of an Italian family and therefore can be legally sold to unsuspecting foreign buyers.

Arthur lives in squalor in shantytown, and hangs out with the troublesome grave-robbers who respect him as as a mystic for his grave digging ability to spot treasures. The gang act as troubadours during carnivals, folklore festivals and holiday celebrations.

One day Arthur makes a romantic connection with Italia (Carol Duarte, Brazillian actress), a young woman who was Flora’s unpaid maid and singing pupil. She was fired for keeping two children secretly in the house.

But Arthur leaves her when he gets a tingling mystical feeling that he has uncovered where
Beniamina is buried and furiously starts digging with his hands to reunite with his lost love.

It’s a melancholy film that never falters trying to show how essential it is to rediscover a love lost, and that we never know our world until we fully experience both its dark and light sides.

It played at the Cannes Film Festival.

Josh O'Connor, in La Chimera

REVIEWED ON 5/31/2023  GRADE: B+