Wonder-inducing stuff – experiences, events and feelings – happens both externally, through our observations, and internally, through grace. In The Wonders, awe comes from both within and without.
Written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, the movie, set in rural Tuscany, centers on Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), a pre-teen girl. She’s the oldest of four children of bohemian beekeepers, whose floundering honey business puts them in dire financial straits. Her one talent, aside from lugging equipment to tend to the hives, is fearlessly allowing bees, which she has placed into her mouth, emerge and crawl all over her face, as though her visage were a map of her life’s future possibilities.
The impractical pater familias (Sam Louwyck) is also a Luddite – the brood’s mother (director’s sister Alba Rohrwacher) fulfills the role of saintly caretaker of children and vegetables – and is hardly impressed with a government media enterprise that’s found its way to these rural parts.
The project is called “Countryside Wonders,” whose aim is to honor the ancient Etruscan traditions of the region through a televised, reality-show competition among the farmers and other food producers. The project’s emissary and host is a woman (Monica Bellucci) who’s been costumed as a goddess-figure to bless these natives’ bounty, and who captivates the impressionable Gelsi. Not surprisingly, despite her father’s fractured views on life, the girl considers the opportunity to participate in this 21st-century cheesy paean to ancient history – in a cave, lit with Christmas lights, no less – too tempting to pass up.
The Wonders carries the Lunar archetype, which rules family, home, the land, as well as memories and the past. “Countryside Wonders” – it’s a vehicle to inspire the farmers to keep doing what they’re doing – contrasts sharply with the impoverished way of life led by Gelsi’s parents and siblings. The smartest of the competitors want an easier way of life, and Gelsi, at least, may be headed down that road, too, especially after a disastrous mishap with a piece of equipment that results in a serious loss of honey. It’s the most moving and desperate part of the film.
As one character says, “Certain things can’t be bought.” That’s the soul speaking. The spirit of the future – as opposed to the pull of the Moon and the past – will give the psyche’s vision a run for its money. Rohrwacher has it both ways. On the one hand, bees, says folklorist Barbara G. Walker, have a strong connection with mortality – their leaving the hive points to the death of the hive’s owner, and symbolically here, a way of life. Yet, honey is a preservative. The Wonders serves, through the point of view of a young girl, as a magical cliffhanger.
Archetype: Farmer. Grower. Bee-keeper. Mother. The Past. Tradition. Progress.
Astrology Archetype: ☽ (Moon)