Writer-director Alice Rohrwacher’s dramedy concerns a family of beekeepers living on a traditional farmstead in Tuscany, Italy. Their exact circumstances are never clarified — the group seems almost as if they’re squatting on the property, and besides dad, mom and four young daughters, there’s another woman, who sometimes argues with dad in German. Regardless, in some shambolic fashion, the family is committed to the land, a simpler way of life and the old-fashioned ways of producing honey (read: time-consuming, messy and not up to modern health and labor codes).
The oldest daughter, Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), is only about 12, but is the family’s hardest worker and the one with an eye beyond their raggedy gardens. She enters the family in a reality-TV contest, which ostensibly will celebrate local farmers and award a cash prize. This show, known as The Wonders, turns out to be a spectacle of “ancient Etruscan” costumes and amateur talent performances, presided over by a silver bewigged fairy (Monica Bellucci) and held in a cave.
Beneath its shaggy surface, The Wonders mines several fertile grounds, including the dissolution of the “old ways” of rural life. (It’s never explicit, but the beekeeping family that adheres closest to such traditions seem new to such ways, while the multi-generational family down the road enters the contest to transform its farm into a B-and-B.) There is also the “wonder” of becoming an adult, of being nurtured within the arms of even a messy family, and of the pure pleasure of being a child, free to enjoy the beauty of nature. Oh, and also: of getting a camel.