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La Chimera movie review & film summary (2024)

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La Chimera movie review & film summary (2024)

As with 2018’s charming “Happy as Lazzaro,” Rohrwacher tricks you into thinking her film is a pleasingly low-key hang. In truth, she’s saying something more substantive and profound about the tug of history—of centuries of culture as well as a newly lost love. 

Josh O’Connor’s Arthur is the hangdog robber who feels both forces pulling on him equally. He’s an Englishman in rural Italy with a preternatural gift for sniffing out hidden Etruscan artifacts that have been buried with the dead, following his instincts in a trancelike state. The ragtag band of tombaroli who wander behind him with great expectations adds to the film’s vibe of percolating, playful chaos.  

But Arthur is also distracted by visions of Beniamina, the bewitching young woman who’s no longer in his life for reasons that eventually become clear to him. He returns to her palatial, decaying home, where the elegant Isabella Rossellini rules over a pack of chattering, hovering young women who all call her “Mom,” thinking he’ll find some solace there. Amusingly, he does not, but Rossellini provides a non-nonsense kindness, which contrasts with the passive-aggressive way she treats her flighty singing student/housekeeper, Italia (Carol Duarte). 

Working with cinematographer Hélène Louvart, whose films include “Happy as Lazzaro” and Eliza Hittman’s “Beach Rats” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” Rohrwacher bathes the film in a gauzy haze, creating the sensation that this is all an ethereal fantasy. When we first see Arthur, he’s asleep on a train; an attendant wakes him and teasingly asks if he was dreaming, prompting the young women opposite him in the car to giggle. This unreliable vibe permeates “La Chimera,” causing us to question always what is real, even as the stakes ultimately become more immediate and concrete. Sometimes this doesn’t work, as in Rohrwacher’s use of slapsticky, sped-up sequences, an homage to the style of silent films which feels too quirky and out of place. Similarly, the aspect ratio often changes, creating an unnecessary distraction. But for the most part, she casts a spell. 

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