Led by a revelatory Josh O’Connor, and supported by Isabella Rossellini and Alba Rohrwacher, Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera is a dream-like romp through Italy’s archaeological and cinematic past.
Set in 1980s Tuscany, the latest from Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders and Happy as Lazzaro, which alongside La Chimera, make an informal trilogy) follows a vaudeville-esque group of tomb raiders seeking out relics of the Etruscans — famous for their sensitivity and a culture that might have saved Italy from its oppressive machismo — with the help of Arthur (Josh O’Connor), a linen-clad English prodigy.
A former archeological scholar with phenomenal luck locating antiquities using a dowsing rod, Arthur was drawn to the region by his long-lost love Beniamina, who is now all but a mirage. He retains ties to his beloved’s aristocrat mother Flora (Isabella Rossellini) who lives under the care of the quirky Italia (Carol Duarte). When we first see Arthur, he is newly released from an Italian prison and he reunites shortly after with his ragtag crew. The prospects of hitting the proverbial jackpot and making the big sale to an infamous trafficker named Spartaco (Alba Rohrwacher) are on the horizon. When the company unearths a fifth-century relic of invaluable worth, the dark side of plundering the past comes into focus, and the question of who it belongs to — everyone or no one? — is raised.
La Chimera leads us through a mind palace teeming with ghosts and treasures, while invoking the likes of Pasolini, Fellini, Olmi, and the Taviani brothers. The layered weight of the ages is felt with nods to Italy’s rich cinematic history. Adding to the utter charm of Rohrwacher’s captivating storytelling, Hélène Louvart’s images, which alternate between 35mm, Super 16, and 16mm, cradle us between the waking and sleeping worlds. A treasure.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
This screening is generously supported by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Toronto.