Arthur Harrison (Josh O’Connor) has a special gift. With a dowsing rod in hand, he can detect buried treasure. Living in Italy, though it’s never explained why, he and a band of grave-robbers dig up Etruscan artefacts and sell them on the black market to the highest bidder.
Arthur is also a rather sad guy. Pining for a lost love we presume has died at some point in the recent past, he walks around in dirty clothes, unkempt beard and looks almost destitute. Alice Rohrwacher’s latest is a rather mystifying work, with nothing to hold onto, offering up a vague story about a vague man with a vague life and vague friends. Mystery only works if it’s alluring and grips. Here, it does neither.
Nothing sticks, nothing grabs, La Chimera (2023) is dull as a muddy puddle, with uninvolving characters, a boring storyline with a protagonist exclusively moping about for over two hours. At least Rohrwacher hired Hélène Louvart to shoot her new film. La Chimera does at least look great in an understated way.
Sometimes films do not connect despite the best intentions of the director and the viewer. Sometimes, it’s a viewer problem. Wrong time of day, wrong seat, wrong part of the theatre, tiredness, the person sitting next to you being annoying, several factors play into the reception of a motion picture, good and bad. Perhaps Rohrwacher’s La Chimera is a work of real merit and distinction, but see something in the wrong circumstances, in the wrong mood, it can harm both film and viewer. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that reviews too are never the final word on a movie. Never!
La Chimera’s contrasts between the sacred and the profane, between the priceless value of art and commercial grubbiness degrading artefacts for money, between lost love and finding love again, it all might clearer and more rewarding on second viewing. And like Rohrwacher’s previous film, 2018’s Happy As Lazzaro, she inserts hints and suggestions of magical realism into her work, to varying degrees of success.
Still: Festival de Cannes