Rohrwacher based the film on her childhood experiences while working with her parents, who were beekeepers. The film was awarded the Grand Prix prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
The cast is made up of mainly non-actors and the director’s sister, Alba Rohrwacher, who plays the mother. The camera work has a grainy neorealist look, and the soundtrack is vibrant.
The film’s setting is rural Tuscany, and follows a beekeeping couple and their five daughters. The eldest daughter is named Gelsomina, after Frederico Fellini’s heroine in the film La Strada, and is beautifully played by Maria Alexandra Lungu.
After a morning of tending to the bees, the sisters go for a swim where they encounter a man who emerges from the woods and tells them to be quiet. As they follow him, they come across the filming of an upcoming television show. The host is Milly Catena (played by Monica Belucci), who is dressed in a Fellini knock-off costume. The young girls are spellbound by her presence.
They later see the program on TV, and Gelsomina learns that it is launching a competition called Countryside Wonders, in which seven farmers will compete to have their products featured on the show. She suggests that the family go on the show, and while her mother warms to the idea, her father is strongly opposed, fearing that it will disturb the natural order of the farm.
Gelsomina ends up on the television show against her father’s wishes and performs a trick in which a boy whistles and bees crawl out of her mouth and onto her face.
In an interview with Film Comment, Rochrwacher talks about her relationship with television, a key component in The Wonders:
“On one hand, the thing about TV is its hypnotic power. I’m hypnotized by it. The same way that fairy tales have hypnotic power, because these magic elements hypnotize you. But in reality, these same elements can be quite dangerous and very negative.
In Italian, there’s a fairy tale called ‘Prezzemolina,’ about a little girl who is given a series of tasks to save her mother from fairies, but all along her path are these little distractions, these little things that are trying to take her away from what she is trying to accomplish.
I wanted to relieve myself of this — to say that TV is really inside a tomb, it’s already dead — and I wanted to look at it with a certain tenderness, as if it belonged to a kind of stone-age.”
I look forward to seeing what she will make next.