La Chimera – movie review

In the context of Alice Rohrwacher’s film La Chimera, the Chimera of the title is something people search for but never manage to find.

The fictional story features a band of Tombaroli, Italian grave robbers, looking for archaeological wonders. Their lucky charm is an eccentric British archaeologist, Arthur (Josh O’Connor), who finds things others can’t, using a forked twig as a divining rod. Arthur has just been released after a short stint in prison.

We’re in Tuscany in the early 1980s. During Arthur’s earlier studies, he fell in love with Beniamina (Yile Yara Vianello), the daughter of local aristocrat Flora (Isabella Rossellini). Arthur still pines for Beniamina (the memories live on in his dreams); as does Flora, who continues to maintain an unrealistic hope of her return. Arthur has fallen in with a rowdy crew of twenty-somethings, who pretend to make their living as farmers and entertainers. Instead, they pilfer the area’s ancient Etruscan tombs for earthenware and ornaments to sell on the black market, hoping to one day strike it rich. Meanwhile, Flora’s live-in maid and tone-deaf music student, Italia (Carol Duarte), catches Arthur’s eye, but she has her own secrets.

Rohrwacher has woven an intriguing, comedic adventure laced with fantasy and romance. With its ethereal quality, it took me quite some time to become involved and understand exactly what was happening. Once the penny dropped, I appreciated it a lot more. I enjoyed the second half more than the first. To be candid, the concept of grave robbers and those that profit from their crime is appalling. It doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

Still, the performances in La Chimera are solid and naturalistic. Josh O’Connor occupies the headspace of the dishevelled protagonist well. You get the feeling that with his “gift”, he is very much caught up in his own headspace. Carol Duarte does a fine job transposing Italia from subservient to buoyant. Isabella Rossellini is spirited as the family matriarch. Vincenzo Nemolato has a good handle on his roguish persona as a leading member of “the gang”. Lou Roy-Lecollinet has spark as the woman in whom he shows more than a passing interest, Melodie. She is familiar with the mysterious fence that the crew uses to offload their “finds”, a person known as Spartaco (Alba Rohrwacher).

The film’s production design captures the joie de vivre of the impoverished gypsy spirit is critical.

La Chimera is a picture for selective tastes that requires concentration. At 2 hours 13 minutes, I ultimately found it interesting, but stretched.

Alex First

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