In “La Chimera,” the traditional previous nestles mere inches under the floor of the current, finally breaking above floor and disrupting, if not the space-time continuum, the extra mundane order of issues. The borders between life and loss of life really feel equally frictious and permeable, as if we might merely go to one from the opposite, as simply as sleeping and waking. Arthur (Josh O’Connor), the wandering Brit on the middle of Alice Rohrwacher’s marvelously supple and sinuous new movie, is accustomed to such limbo states. So are admirers of Rohrwacher’s filmmaking, which, on this eccentric, romantic story of competing grave-robbers in Central Italy, touches the transcendental with out diving into the outright fabulism of 2018’s “Happy as Lazzaro.”
Grounding the feyer impulses of “La Chimera” — a return for Rohrwacher to extra metaphysical musings after the less complicated charms of her Oscar-nominated brief “Le Pupille” — is, nicely, the literal floor: grubby and gritty and, on this area of Italy, full of archaeological delights from the Etruscan period. Here, you possibly can take a spade to only about any patch of land and, in minutes, uncover a literal wealth of millennia-old vases, utensils and ornaments. It is the early Eighties, and bands of tombaroli (unlawful grave-robbers with a watch for an artefact) are cashing in, digging up once-sacred objects and promoting them on to the elite historic artwork market. What use are they underground, in spite of everything? The tombaroli are not any extra sentimental in regards to the items they dig up than a potato farmer is about his crop: It’s a dwelling, and however interference from the police and infighting amongst them, it’s a better one than many.
Arthur, splendidly performed by O’Connor with a loping gait and a muttering command of Italian, is one thing of a lone-wolf tombarolo, often collaborating with one significantly rowdy, raucous gang of thieves, however with a solitary mission and motives that he retains near his scrawny chest. In his cream-colored linen swimsuit, he appears to be like from a distance the very mannequin of the rakish, barely disreputable Englishman overseas — a suitably colonial picture for a person extracting the treasures of a rustic not his personal. Any glamor related to that archetype evaporates, nevertheless, upon nearer inspection of stated swimsuit. Crumpled and ill-fitting, with streaks of grime on the lapels that broaden and darken because the movie progresses, it appears to be like like it might have been plundered from a gravesite too.
Newly launched from a brief jail spell because the movie opens, Arthur is adrift in Italy and in his personal thoughts — his goals and waking ideas frequently spliced with recollections of Beniamina, the younger, limpidly smiling Italian girl who as soon as liked him, and who seems to be no extra. He seeks refuge within the crumbling, fresco-adorned villa owned by her mom Flora (Isabella Rossellini, a pleasure), the place she awaits her daughter’s return with an optimism not shared by Beniamina’s ghastly, greedy sisters — collectively desperate to shuffle her off to a nursing house — and teaches classical singing to Italia (Carol Duarte, the Brazilian star of “Invisible Life”), a eager however tone-deaf waif who does home chores in change for her tuition.
Flora dotes on Arthur as a sort of proxy for her daughter, however he in any other case resists shut human alliances, largely saving his coronary heart for the absent or the lifeless. Though he falls in with Pirro (Vincenzo Nemolato), the gregarious ringleader of a very motley crew of tombaroli, and joins of their vaudeville-style carousing between digging expeditions, he offers away so little of himself as to be a pallid puzzle of their midst. Their divergent ideas of thieving, in the meantime, come between them once they hit the Etruscan mom lode: an impressive, absolutely intact Chimera statue value inestimable hundreds of thousands. Only Italia, it appears, may similar to Arthur for Arthur, however she too has his ghosts to compete with.
Shooting fluidly on a number of movie codecs — 35mm, 16mm and Super 16 — within the bleachy sky blues and earth tones which have by now develop into a signature palette, Rohrwacher and her common DP Hélène Louvart make a advantage of this skittering, actually shape-shifting visible high quality, because the shifts in grain, mild and body dimensions from one sequence to the subsequent denote the movie’s personal transient sense of actuality, and the states of earthy pragmatism and mournful reverie between which Arthur hovers. Is he sampling loss of life each time he ventures underground, making an attempt it on for measurement, at the least till he finds one thing to reside for above the floor? Is buying and selling within the forex of the previous a approach to distance himself from a lonesome current?
Raffish and boyish on the identical time — or switching between both mode as a canopy for the opposite — O’Connor’s deft, droll efficiency implies such potentialities with out sentimentalizing them. There’s a persistently stoic air to his stooping melancholy that solely not often offers approach to a mischievous smile or a sudden, strident, barely embarrassing flare of anger. His quiet curiosity as a performer makes him a superb match for this most in some way generously elusive of filmmakers, who right here presents all her earthly and otherworldly preoccupations in scattered, bejeweled fragments, for us to collect and assemble and interpret — and doesn’t a lot thoughts if some items keep buried.