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Farm life, Italian style
rubenm7 March 2015
'Certe cose non si possono comprare'. 'Certain things you can't buy'. It's not often that one line from the script summarizes the whole film. But when the beekeeper Wolfgang speaks these words, he explains exactly what this film is about.

'Le Meraviglie' shows the life of a family of Italian beekeepers, intent on living a simple, rural, pure life, without any harmful influences from the outside world. Father Wolfgang and mother Angelica raise their four daughters according to strict rules: no television, no fancy clothes, no luxury. They have trouble making ends meet, and the father is a demanding man, who lets the children work in the honey-making business as if they were grown-ups. This is not a happy family: the father is ill-tempered and the mother is worried about the financial difficulties they have to cope with.

When the oldest daughter decides to participate in a contest for regional agricultural products, the family is forced to enter a world of commercial marketing and fancy promotion. This is the moment when the father tells a television show hostess that certain things are impossible to buy. He doesn't say what exactly, but it's clear what he means: integrity, purity, simplicity, and authenticity.

This is not a plot-driven film. It shows the confrontation between ideals and constraints, between dreams and reality. The film maker doesn't take sides. The commercial contest, representing the modern world, is ridiculous because of its slick sales pitch. But the life on the farm, representing tradition, is not happy and carefree either.

'Le Meraviglie' is filmed in an unpolished, realistic style, almost like a documentary, with bright lighting and hand-held cameras. The undisputed star of the film is the young actress playing the oldest daughter, an innocent girl who seems torn between loyalty towards her father and despise for his strict rules.
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sweet as honey
unsoldino427 December 2014
I didn't expect a similar plot. But the plot itself it not the important part of this movie. The Cannes Festival have create some interest about this little incredible surprise, and it worth entirely the attention. It is all about life. Filmed in a very strange and unusual location, a farm in a poor area (Tuscany, but could be everywhere). About a very strange and unusual family (the center of it is a young teenager, Gelsomina by a unbelievable in her great acting Maria Alexandra Lungu), and a very strange business (honey and bees). But all these unusual choices results in a so strong, so sweet, so touching, little masterpiece. We feel fully involved, interested, part of this world that is, in fact, the world: love, young expectation, economic difficulties, pollution, family affairs, all is inside, but with no drama because the look used in this opera is a colored one, full of the hope of young people.
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A Queen Bee
Raven-19695 December 2015
The inner and hidden emotions of adults, wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne, are often revealed through how their children are acting. The life of a family of beekeepers in the central Italian countryside reveals the truth and magic of Hawthorne's words. Despite the brash, impulsive and abrasive outward behavior of the family patriarch, Wolfgang, the household composed of four daughters and a couple of guest workers functions smoothly and efficiently. This is due mostly to the oldest daughter, twelve year old Gelsomina. Gelsomina is reserved, quiet and caring like a queen bee and the family life secretly revolves around her.

There is potential to disrupt the hive. When the family is taking a break and swimming in a natural area of warm, volcanic springs, they run into a television crew featuring local culinary wonders. The star and host of the show, played by Monica Bellucci, takes a liking to Gelsomina. Gelsomina foresees a chance for her family, honey and their bees to shine by appearing in the show and winning money to help support themselves. Wolfgang sees only trouble. For him there are things that money cannot buy. Father and daughter may have more in common than is readily apparent.

This serene and unhurried film is an antidote to the shallow, predictable and emotionless Hollywood slop. It is amazing the way the life of the family mirrors that of the bees, and how they depend on each other. The actors and the film crew do a wonderful job of keeping the story flowing, or buzzing. I felt like I was part of the family and the hive of bees, and not merely watching them on screen. Other wonders of the film include interesting and unique characters and a variable, unstructured plot in which viewers can choose their own meanings.
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Being a child of a farmer and the rural life.
Reno-Rangan26 August 2015
I begin by saying it was a sweet little Italian movie. It is not here to entertain you, but to give an alarming message. The world's human population is growing rapidly, but within, the farmer's counts are shrinking. Hunger will be one of the future's biggest concerns to deal. This film is about a farmer family that depicted from the perspective of what's causing for the people like them to disappear. There are a very few movies on this theme, in that, all the farmer's movies won't illustrate harvesting and hardworks rather focuses on romance, revenge and other subplots. I think this was true to what it was promised and you would feel glad watching this if you are capable to realise the facts.

A 12 years old girl, Gelsomina, with her parents and three younger sisters lives in a rural Italy. They are the bee farmers, living with a strict order of the life, especially when it comes to the profession. And this story was told from the Gelsomina's viewpoint about everything she and her family goes through. After her father who got no son, she has to carry on the family's tradition to the next generation. She's absolutely on it as she's naturally gifted and stronger than anyone in the family, including her father who's no match for her. Moreover, she's already running the family with moral. But when they reach a crossroad, some unexpected decisions have to be made which is basically the remaining portion.

"You would need a slave. Instead of 4 daughters."

I can't say it is a must see, because it is still a movie and looks for an opportunity in between to amuse you. Either, it is not afraid to unfold the reality, that's the best of this film. It had an amazing cast, but I don't know anyone of them, of course, except Monica Bellucci in a cameo. Cinematography was great, they were not trying to seduce the viewers with the beautiful countryside scenic rather presenting as it is. Beside the film let you know about bee keeping and honey extraction. It is not an easy job, thinking bees do all the work and we just snatch it using protection costume. But surrounding environment and all matters. There's no CGI, some of the dangerous scenes were shot under the guidance of the real pros with a specialised documentary crew.

It proves a coming-of-age story can also be told in this manner. Urbanising, hunters, tourism influx, name it... all these are affecting peace in the rural life. This film covers most of the factors in a simple fashion, It was not that easy for everyone to understand the end part as it contained two way meaning, literal and metaphor. One is a report card for the actuality and the other one is a cinematic conclusion. Overall, it tackles on the matured contents and children are the part of it, especially the last quarter all about them. And finally, everyone won't desire for a movie like this, but IMO certainly worth spending time for it.

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What's all the Buzz?
brynjolfson17 October 2015
For a film about a simple Italian beekeeping family there is a wealth of depth and imagination. I personally wasn't a fan of the visuals, editing, and cinematography; but the screenplay was phenomenal, the acting was superb, and the story struck at the heart of family life amidst difficulty.

I don't know much about Italian lore and history, but I would guess this film is some kind of modern take on an ancient Etruscan fairy tale. A struggling rural family with scores of problems is almost entirely dependent on the oldest daughter to provide. In order to help her family, she calls on the help of a fairy. In this case, the fairy is the host of a prize show. All in all, it's a brilliant revision of folklore. It goes to show that moral messages of ancient stories apply just as much to us today as they did to ancient civilizations 2700 years ago.
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Drama, accident, emotion and mystery are intermittently jammed into Rohrwacher's poetic and fly-on-the-wall approach of rural life
lasttimeisaw20 March 2016
Italian director Alice Rohrwacher's sophomore feature, the Grande Prix winner in Cannes 2014, THE WONDERS is a semi-autobiographical essay, tells the story of an Italian family of beekeepers, the patriarch Wolfgang (Louwyck) is (supposedly) of German descent, with wife Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, Alice's elder sister) and their four daughters, the eldest one is Gelsomina (Lungu), who is on the cusp of puberty, together they live in the countryside of Etruscan area.

Gelsomina is the main help of Wolfgang in apiculture, but once they bump into a TV crew shooting a show called "The Land of Wonders", where a competition of products from local farmers is held up, it can bring handsome prize-money to the hard-up family, it piques her interest while Wolfgang is (inexplicably) strongly against the idea. Meanwhile the family accepts to allow a juvenile delinquent Martin (Huica), who is arranged by the so-called Second Life organisation, to work on the farm in exchange for some income, Martin doesn't speak Italian and seems to be autistic, still and all, he is a boy. Wolfgang's undisguised preference of Martin over her in beekeeping, sores the sensitive Gelsomina, and she fills an application on behalf of their family to compete in the TV show without telling anyone.

Drama, accident, emotion and mystery are intermittently jammed into Rohrwacher's poetic and fly- on-the-wall approach of the rural life she is familiar with. Sceneries are primarily shoot in available light, an opening gambit with a long take sustained only by the headlights of approaching vehicles out of the pitch black, manifests her aesthetic philosophy and sets the overall tonality, so no picturesque bucolic landscapes to take viewers' breathe away, instead, Rohrwacher painstakingly taps into the ethereal aura of Etruscan myth, setting the TV competition inside a cavern, forging Martin's unexplained disappearance in the necropolis area (later hinged with the equally unexplained affinity between him and Gelsomina) and the finale, an existential allegory (the ill- fitting camel gets up and moves out of the frame, so is their family workshop, cannot stay in business in the climate). All burnish the picture with a primitive sheen which is so out of tune with our era, and the ultimate sentiment is uniquely personal.

Defying empathy and involvement, THE WONDERS is not ambitious to tell a nostalgic story, it merely introduces the vignette of a family once lived on the farm, there was a girl who has bees coming out of her mouth and a boy accompanies her with a melodious whistle.

As an art-house project, it is disheartening to notice Monica Belluci's thankless participation here as the beautified anchorwoman Milly, sporting a gaudy wig and being idolised by amateur child actors, it is a frustrating strategy of celebrity placement, a false advertisement, which is as shameless as dragging Juliet Binoche into her five-minutes presence in blockbuster GODZILLA (2014). There is some mettle wanting in this case, as a young female writer/director, Alice Rohrwacher has a long and tough battle to fight as a trailblazer for women in the ultra- exist Italian film industry.
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Failed portrait of Italian farm and family life, in spite of what the Cannes jury said. Too many ingredients won't make a good stew
JvH4815 May 2015
Saw this at the Film Fest Ghent 2014, expecting something remarkable or novel, given what Cannes jury had to say about it. Alas, for me it failed on several counts, mainly because I don't think that throwing in an ample variety of ingredients does produce a good stew. It seems that the film makers tried to follow a complicated recipe, but could not come to a consistent and balanced product. The best example of something completely out of tune was the bee produced by Gelsomina out of her mouth on two occasions, the last one as part of the TV show she signed up her family for. It should be possible to find something better for this purpose, and still having a relationship with their bee keeping business where it was all about.

The synopsis on the festival website stated that Gelsomina was the center of the bee keeping business, and particularly the honey extraction process, but I found that not so clearly shown while watching the movie. Yet she is mentioned several times as "head of the family", while all signs seem to point in different directions. Also, when the boy Martin is introduced, everyone points to Gelsomina as the responsible person, and again I don't understand as it is the father who introduced the boy in the first place. I apparently did miss something important.

An annoying aspect of this movie is that it happened a few times that the scenery jumped to several hours later in time, without being clear about the change. For example: after the day that the boy was lost on the island, we suddenly see Gelsomina in action on the farm, requiring us to take some time noticing we are at a different time and place now, and adjust our focus accordingly. It happened to me several times, but this was the most prominent occurrence that I still remember.

While this film's Grand Prize of the Cannes jury rises expectations, I'm disappointed because of my overall feelings that the end product is not in any way remarkable, all things considered. It happened many times before that I didn't agree with festival juries, however, so this may become a fact of (my) life. It may be so that the jury admired the portraying of life on a farm, being a non-issue for me grown up on a farm myself. So all the tedious tasks and the inherent dangers in animals and machinery were merely deja-vu for me, nothing out of the ordinary. Similarly, the mixed household and the assortment of very different people having to work together, is normal on a farm and standard operating procedure. In other words, I'm prejudiced in duplicate, on one hand to find something that the Cannes jury found remarkable, on the other hand seeing a portrait of farming that offers nothing special for me. I'm inclined to forget about the jury and let aforementioned faults weigh in to arrive at a negative conclusion.
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Slowly moving film about farm and family life
Horst_In_Translation18 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I have to say the plot of "Le meraviglie" or "The Wonders" did not interest me that much, so I probably would not have decided to give this film a watch if it wasn't for the Jury Grand Prize win in Cannes this year, which made me a bit curious. In the end it was a good decision. The film did not disappoint, but I have to say it did not wow me either.

All the actors give decent performances, the MVP possibly is Sam Louwych as the lead character's father. However, he also has the most material to work playing a hot-tempered honey farmer. The boring agricultural life becomes a lot more interesting for him, his wife and four daughters when Gelsomina (the girl in the center of the story) decides to sign up the family for a TV show where they can possibly present their products. And if that was not already enough, the father decides to employ a boy with a criminal past in order to help with the bee farming. Other than that, there is the usual struggles you may expect the family to trouble in their hard work: pesticides, rain storms and accident with the dangerous machinery. The only thing I completely disliked about the film where the two scenes when Gelsomina has a bee in her mouth, on one occasion with the boy, on the other occasion at the TV show production. To me, these felt really unpleasant to watch. This may come from my general dislike of stinging insects, but I also felt that these really did not fit the tone of the rest of the film. Other than this minor criticism, I think the movie is worth a watch. It is not too often that Italian films make it here, so I am glad I took the chance.
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Unpolished. And it's good (but a little bad)
federicocalciolari24 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Rohrwacher's talent lies all in striking the almost unattainable balance between reality and fantasy, as all her movies have a weird, magnetic charme, feeling as they were somehow suspended in the void.

It is a delicate equilibrium of the untold and the explicit, the crude realism of a poor family's farm life and some dreamlike (or nightmarelike) elements (like the TV contest or the camel).

What is left of this almost plot-less movie is a sensation of mistery and marvel, as the lives of the characters do not call for any judgement, but just for attention and careful observation.

And like mere observers, we are challenged to deal with the apparent lack of sense and of right and wrong by simply taking events at face value. Something the protagonists seem to be doing anyway.

Nevertheless, the movie still feels a bit unfinished. If some moments reach impressive peaks of poetic marvel (the tiny "show" during the TV contest, the sleepover by the campfire on the island or the lids of beehives flying off), in other sections the movie feels flat and lacking of coherence, both in style and in narrative purpose.

There is no director like Rohrwacher at this point. No one is sensitive, intelligent and reckless enough to investigate this perspective. But in order for the movies to be actually enjoyable, much work is still needed, especially with regards to style, pace of narration and overall coherence.
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Italian cinema at its best
MOscarbradley14 March 2018
Chanelling both Olmi and Fellini, Alice Rohrwacher's "The Wonders" represents Italian cinema at its best. Like Olmi's "Tree of Wooden Clogs" or more recently, Frammartino's "Le Quattro Volte" it's another classic picture of rural life with a touch of late Fellini thrown in, (in the form of the slightly surreal television competition that gives the film its name).

It's about a family of bee-keepers, struggling to make a living in Etruscany. The German father is something of a wastrel, the mother has mostly given up and it's left to the oldest daughter to hold things together. The writer and director Alice Rohrwacher, it was only her second feature film, neither romanticises or sentimentalises their situation and the film works both as a rural idyll and another wonderful addition to the cinema of childhood, (the adults seem to be figures in the background). Intelligent and very moving.
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