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Alice Rohrwacher's "La Chimera": A Magical Romantic Drama That Transcends Reality

In the curious dynamics of festivals and competition, the new film by director Alice Rohrwacher had almost unanimous acceptance among the attendees at Cannes, contrary to the Palme d'Or winner, "Anatomy of a Fall," which was liked but not the favorite of many. The Guardian, for example, gave it five stars in their review, and on Rotten Tomatoes, it reached 100% approval among those who reviewed it. The British Film Institute described it as a masterpiece in their publication.

"La Chimera" is the title, and it is a romantic drama that narrates the adventures of a band of Etruscan tomb thieves and traveling antique sellers who dream of making the impossible come true.

Its name alludes to the meaning of the word, which refers to the hope felt for something that is illusory and impossible to attain. For a band dedicated to stealing archaeological wonders and ancient trousseaus, the chimera represents the dream of easy work. For the protagonist of this story, Arthur, the chimera is the woman he lost, Beniamina, so he decides to overcome the invisible and embark on the adventure of searching for her, opening the doors of the afterlife, just as myths describe. Along his journey, among forests and cities, the living and the dead, several characters cross paths, all of them hoping to make their chimera a reality.

The director explained that the inspiration for this film came from the stories she knew from the place where she grew up, Castel Giorgio, where it was common to hear astonishing and mysterious stories. "Where I grew up, it was common to hear stories of secret discoveries, clandestine excavations, and mysterious adventures. You only had to stay in the bar until late at night or stop at an inn to find out that so-and-so had discovered a Villanovan tomb with his tractor, or that someone, while excavating near the necropolis one night, had found a gold necklace so long it could encircle a house, or that someone else had become rich in Switzerland by selling an Etruscan vase they had found in their garden."

So Alice Rohrwacher's new film brings these oral tales back to life, as we saw in her lyrical "Happy as Lazzaro" (2018). "The proximity of the sacred and the profane, of death and life, which characterized the years I grew up, has always fascinated me and given meaning to my way of seeing. That's why I finally decided to make a film that tells this story in layers, this relationship between two worlds, the last part of a triptych about a local area that focuses on an essential question: What should be done with the past? As some tomb thieves say, on our path, it is the dead who give it life."

The transition between what life and death represent has been visually depicted by working with three formats in the film: 35mm, which served to amplify the sensation of telling a fairy tale; Super 16mm, which highlighted the heart of the action; and 16mm, which gives the feeling of capturing something informally and amateurishly. Regarding another important aspect of the story about the representation of the past and the present, Rohrwacher pointed out that behind it, there has been an intention and concern to "depict an era when the power of individualism was emphasized, so I focused on things that age, but also on the urgencies of a generation that feels different and seeks to break with the past. I wondered at what point an object stops being sacred during a generation, to become a mere relic of a bygone time."


The British Film Institute commented, "La Chimera is a masterful and joyful work of folk magic." In The Guardian, they wrote that the film is "a seductive fantasy comedy about a lost love: loquacious, scandalous, and festive in its absolutely distinctive style. It is a lively and vibrant film, with characters who struggle, sing, steal, and break the fourth wall to speak directly to us." And finally, Screen Daily noted that it is "a film about an extraordinary world, where nature has been devastated, the dead profaned, and the land stripped by trivial things, but despite all our failures and ill-fated attempts to fix things, it reminds us that beauty somehow persists."

"La Chimera" is starring Josh O'Connor, Isabella Rossellini, and Alba Rohrwacher, the director's sister.

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