In Alice Rohrwacher’s second feature we are introduced to a family who live something close to a traditional life in Middle Italy. It’s headed by the rough around the edges and temperamental Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) who works himself and his four daughters (all under fifteen) hard in their bee-keeping trade whilst the mother (Alba Rohrwacher) tries to keep the business and the family afloat for as long as she possibly can. It’s a hard life, and the constant arguing and shouting in the family doesn’t help, but the rewards are sweet and Wolfgang fervently clings to them. As he says later in the film there are ‘certain things you can’t buy’.
This is a film which is quietly concerned with a number of things, perhaps most obviously it is looking at the uneasy relationships between industry and tradition, family and business but also I would argue it delves into the relationship between freedom and social structure as well. Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) is the eldest daughter and years of working hard have made her more like an adult than a child of her age. She bears a lot of the family’s weight on her back and must do as she is told by her strict and impatient father. However she has a lively mind that which be able to act on what’s best for the family if only she were allowed to. Her fascination with a garish television show which has started up in the area begins to sow the seeds of discord in the family when the slightly trashy presenter, played perfectly by Monica Bellucci, promises a large cash prize to the local family who best represents traditional values. Soon Gelsomina finds her world views challenged as notions of family, finance and tradition begin to clash against each other.
Lungu, with her portrayal of the eldest daughter, provides a measured and sensitive performance which makes her the outstanding star in a film that’s filled with fine performances. As I understand it this is her first feature work, I don’t know if she has acted elsewhere but either way it’s an impressive debut. Alongside her we have Sam Louwyck as the father and he delivers strongly; crafting a figure who could so easily have been a stereotypical poor father figure, but more is asked of him and he succeeds in giving his role some real depth and clarity. We can easily see a life’s story in his eyes and he gives us that without melodramatic distraction, its a fine performance.
So alongside the actors Lungu, Louwyck, Bellucci we have Alba Rohrwacher and Sabine Timoteo who both also impress with their respective roles that help to really round out the film’s heart and soul. But words have to be spoken about the other Rohrwacher, Alice, who directed the film. The most impressive thing about her direction is the subtlety with which it paints its subjects. Every character and every narrative element of the film is given the right amount of screen-time so that it infuses the others with purpose. Characters which appear at first to be painted broadly are made more complex and human as the film goes on. Even the film’s magical realism element is very faint and delicately handled. It’s barely there but just acts as a spice in this rather charming, affecting and discretely urgent new film.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Alice Rohrwacher’s even-handed direction.
Its greatest weakness? Some won’t like its fairly relaxed pacing and gentle feel.
Would I see it again? Certainly, I am to see it again soon – it’s a thoroughly enjoyable new film from Rohrwacher.
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