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La Chimera Review | An Entrancing Exploration of Devastating Loss


La Chimera Review | An Entrancing Exploration of Devastating Loss


Italian auteur Alice Rohrwacher explores death and lost love in a beguiling period setting with stunning cinematography. La Chimera refers to the search for something you’re destined to never find. Her protagonist, an angry and perpetually haunted British archaeologist, robs ancient tombs with a merry band of oddball thieves. But their larcenous goals of quick riches hide his quest for something less tangible yet equally rewarding. La Chimera captivates despite ponderous lulls and admittedly lethargic pacing. It straddles a creative line between realism and fantasy with a lingering sense of the extraordinary.



Set in ’80s Tuscany, inquisitive teenage girls playfully rib a disheveled man trying to sleep in their train car. Arthur (Josh O’Connor) accepts their mocking while daydreaming about his beloved Beniamina (Yile Vianello). The laughter ends when a sock vendor unleashes Arthur’s bottled wrath. The explosive outburst causes everyone to flee. He trudges off the train and ignores a waiting car. Pirro (Vincenzo Nemolato) begs Arthur to accept a ride. He should be happy to see his friends.


Arthur hikes up a hillside to a tin shack filled with bits of Etruscan pottery with his crumpled white suit providing little comfort in the freezing cold. Arthur’s anger erupts again after a deeper search outside. He storms into town towards the gang’s hideout where Pirro and the tombaroli, tomb raiders, have kept his treasured artifacts. Arthur’s prison stay would have been much longer.


Arthur and the Tombaroli

La Chimera 2024 poster

La Chimera

3.5/5

Release Date
March 29, 2024

Director
Alice Rohrwacher

Runtime
130 min

Studio
Tempesta, Amka Films Productions, Rai Cinema, Ad Vitam Production, RSI-Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Canal+, ARTE, Arte France Cinéma, Ciné+

Pros

  • A poetic and gorgeous film that expertly blends genres.
  • Alice Rohrwacher and cinematographer Hélène Louvart create perfect visuals.
  • Josh O’Connor makes for a very interesting and mesmerizing lead.
Cons

  • La Chimera requires patience and a specific mood.

Arthur’s next visit is to the dilapidated mansion of Signora Flora (Isabella Rossellini). She welcomes him like a lost son. Flora orders Italia (Carol Duarte) to fetch him tea and some winter clothes. Her latest vocal student has little talent but serves as a free maid. Italia observes the stranger with piqued curiosity as Flora rarely shows anyone such warmth. It seems they have both been waiting for Beniamina. Later that night, the tombaroli prod Arthur to resume his endless search. He has a special gift they’re desperate to further exploit. A drunken local has a tip about a possible Etruscan grave, and they need Arthur to find it.


La Chimera reveals little in its first act. Rohrwacher — a Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winner for The Wonders and Oscar-nominated for her short, Le pupille — builds her protagonist with external pieces. Arthur is a mystery with sullen eyes and a chain-smoking demeanor. Why is he upset? What’s the purpose of returning to such a hardscrabble existence? Arthur is initially defined by the people he interacts with. We learn the supporting ensemble each wants something different from him. He abides to stay in a place that fosters his true passion.


The tall and emaciated O’Connor carries the film like a flickering flame attracting moths. He speaks Italian but isn’t entirely fluent. This opens a burgeoning relationship with Italia that takes the narrative in a more understandable direction. Her secrets become pivotal motivations for them both. Arthur’s fascination with the world of the dead has made him blind to the joys of the living. His guarded and distant personality hides a gnawing ache for companionship, but Italia rekindles his spark of humanity. Rohrwacher is exceptional as she deviates from her primary tombraider plot.

La Chimera
NEON

French cinematographer Hélène Louvart continues to be sublime in her third collaboration with Rohrwacher. La Chimera changes frame rate, aspect ratios, film stock, and character perspectives when Arthur’s unique talents take hold. Louvart switches from super 8 to 16 and 35MM in dreamlike sequences where the camera physically rotates 360 degrees. Rohrwacher visually takes the audience into another realm. Whether it’s Arthur’s imagination or an actual underworld is never explained. La Chimera has metaphysical concepts that are left ambiguous. This may confound some viewers, but you have to applaud the filmmakers for their artistic intent.


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Joys of the Living

Josh O'Connor as Arthur in La Chimera
NEON

Rohrwacher utilizes the tombaroli like a chorus from Greek classics. They hover in the background recounting Arthur’s experiences through songs, paintings, and group dialogue. These expository moments are sometimes sped up for comical effect. It’s akin to watching Benny Hill or the Three Stooges bumble around and pratfall. You don’t take them seriously until they become somewhat threatening. They highlight Rohrwacher’s efforts to avoid tonal compartmentalization. She doesn’t want to be placed in a specific category, but this tactic can be a stretch depending on your point of view. Focus is necessary to avoid dilution and maintain interest. Swirling paint together may look cool to some and a jumbled mess to others.


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Rohrwacher employs a poetic process that’s not meant to be succinct. Her characters are worthwhile investments in studious development. La Chimera draws outside the lines. Patience is needed to a certain degree, but ultimately rewarding in its brilliantly executed scope.

La Chimera has Italian dialogue with English subtitles. It is a production of Tempesta, Rai Cinema, Ad Vitam Production, and Amka Films Productions, et al. La Chimera will be released theatrically in the US on March 29th from NEON. Watch the trailer below.


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