Alice Rohrwacher's beautifully observed The Wonders, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, follows a kind of hippie family around their Tuscan farm, where the father, Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), sleeps in his underwear and awakes irritable and impatient, barking orders at his four daughters and his wife.
The family makes honey. They are beekepers.
The two older girls, Marinella (Agnese Graziani) and especially Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), are charged with watching the buckets where the golden liquid drips from the centrifuge. It's not exactly state of the art, but it's a livelihood - barely. The days move in fits and starts, and everyone tromps out to the hives to check on the industrious swarm.
Tousled and tired, Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, the director's sister), monitors her daughters - and her husband's mood. Coco (Sabine Timoteo), a friend, lives there, too.
Two things happen to shake things up in this bucolic bubble of isolation: Wolfgang and Angelica agree to take in a German boy, Martin (Luis Huilca), who has been in trouble with the law and whose care will mean much-needed extra income. Martin doesn't speak. But he is watchful, and he whistles like a songbird.
The other thing: The Countryside Wonders, an Italian reality TV show, is auditioning farmers to compete for a big cash prize. The producers are looking for exemplars of the simple life, working in harmony with the land.
The host of the show, Milly, dresses in white like an ancient goddess (by way of the Cinecittà studios). She is played by the movie goddess Monica Bellucci, who wears a long white braid and a beatific smile - and who is the exact opposite of the assassin's widow she played, veiled in black and clinching with Daniel Craig's 007, in Spectre.
Filmmaker Rohrwacher works unhurriedly, finding her heroine in Gelsomina, who is both a part of the family and apart from it. When the entire clan heads for the island where the TV show is shooting, Gelsomina and Martin run off and enact their own version of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom. Not literally, but they're two prepubescent soulmates on the run.
Terrence Malick comes to mind, too, in Rohrwacher's approach to storytelling - but without the American's sense of the symphonic and supernal. Nature and family are key, but so is the need to keep things real - and to find the beauty in the real, in the muddy road after a rainstorm, in the illuminated shadows of a cave, in the gruff groan of a camel (yes, a camel) moving among a flock of sheep. Sublime.
The Wonders **** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Alice Rohrwacher. With Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Alba Rohrwacher. In Italian, French and German with subtitles. Distributed by Oscilloscope Laboraties.
Running time: 1 hour, 51 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.EndText