Review: Young girl yearns to connect in ‘The Wonders’

Tom Long
The Detroit News

A study in eccentricity, family bonds and perseverance, “The Wonders” follows a patriarch intent on cutting himself off from the world, even as his family yearns for some outside connection.

Caught in the tension is 12-year-old Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu). She lives with her domineering, irresponsible father, Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), and mostly compliant, but sometimes resentful, mother, Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher), on a remote Tuscan country farm. Wolfgang is a beekeeper (although Gelsomina seems to do most of the work) and general grouch who has fathered a large brood of daughters, all of whom report to Gelsomina, as the oldest.

The family is in a world of its own. The girls — and Wolfgang — run about in their underwear a good deal of the time, Wolfgang often sleeps on a bed outside in the farmyard. There’s no denying their closeness, but there’s also no denying that Gelsomina yearns for more connection with the greater world.

The potential for such connection arrives in two ways. The family, while splashing about in the ocean one day, stumbles on a promotion for a reality TV show, a competition in which remote country farmers try to convince judges that their family and products are the most unique. The show’s dazzling hostess (Monica Belluci, certainly dazzling) asks Gelsomina to enter her family, but stubborn Wolfgang is dead set against it.

The other connection to the outside world comes in the shape of Martin (Luis Huilca), an adolescent German juvenile delinquent who Wolfgang takes in (for a price), ostensibly for rehabilitation, but in reality as cheap labor. Even though Martin doesn’t speak their language — and the languages here are a hodgepodge — he and Gelsomina make a connection.

“The Wonders” has no great revelations, and indeed it leaves the future of its characters hanging in uneasy air. But it offers a slice of family life — tumultuous, conflicted, yet bound by circumstance and history — that is thoroughly unique and awfully colorful. And with Gelsomina, it offers the spirit of a survivor.

tlong@detroitnews.com

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‘The Wonders’

GRADE: B

Not rated

Running time: 110 minutes