LA CHIMERA Review: Precious Things Left to Bury

Josh O'Connor leads a ragtag group of grave robbers in Alice Rohrwacher's latest feature

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
LA CHIMERA Review: Precious Things Left to Bury

Arthur (Josh O'Connor) is not having a good day. He's just got out of prison with nothing but the clothes on his back. His former criminal gang is eager to recruit him; the person to whom he plied his trade has paid for his debts, but Arthur doesn't want anything to do with them. Moreover, he's lost his great love. But memories call from every corner, and it seems only his rare and unusual talent is all that matters in world which offers little else to keep him alive.

Alice Rohrwacher (Happy as Lazzaro, The Wonders) returns with another feature that revisits some themes she has deftly explored in past films: memory, the invisible, and belonging. La Chimera introduces us to a world of theft, art, possession of and by the material, and by memories and how they can be held in objects or in souls.

Arthur's odd talent in knowing exactly where to dig for buried treasure. Specifically, graves and tombs of ancient people such as the Estruscans, who populated modern day eastern Italy around 6th century BCE. Given the fair number of these locations, and that the Etruscans were in the habit of burying works of art such as statues, jewelry, and pottery with their dead, it's literally buried treasure to those who seek it. But Arthur and his band are not archeologists or historians; they are ordinary people who want to find that one treasure that will set them up for life. Their efforts are crude, but effective, though as much as they want to see themselves as independent, they are still dependent on Spartaco, a hidden figure who buys their finds.

Arthur first seeks out Flora (Isabella Rossellini), the aging mother of his beloved Beniamina, lost to them both. Flora continues to live in her stately home that has fallen into disrepair, aided by aspiring singer Italia (Carol Duarte). As Arthur reluctantly returns to the only job he knows, he finds himself more and more taken with Italia. Meanwhile, his gang keeps managing to avoid the authorities (who know what's happening but never catch them in the act), and stumble across the prize they've longer for.

The gang believes (and they are somewhat correct) that since this treasure is in their land, that they have just as much right to it as anyone. That since the capitalist society in which they exist allows them little hope of comfort, why shouldn't they live off the past? After all, these bodies are doing nothing with the vases, bowls, and necklaces sunk in the dirt. Arthur's motives, however, are as obscure as those who populate the graves; maybe he hasn't changed that much in prison. He's also not Italian - this is not his home he's robbing, nor does he seem interested in money (he lives in a tin-roofed shack precariously positioned against an old city wall).


Rohrwacher takes us on this journey as if constructing the kind of fable or legend that might have been told about one of the tomb inhabitants. 35mm film was used for the landscape, the art, reminding us of its beauty and timeless quality; 16mm film as home-movie style that showcases the earthiness of these workers, their quick talents, and the songs and stories, mostly about Arthur, that will likely become a part of the area's folk history. What will be remembered of him and his explorations? What is the use of these objects in the ground when they can better serve the people here? There are moments of slapstick comedy, of pseudo-documentary, of romantic drama, or crime thriller. Rohrwacher weaves all this together as the mosaic that emcompasses such as strange way of life and place.

But for Arthur, the reflection comes from what should stay buried and what shouldn't. What words are best to communicate the truth, the past, and what is necessary to leave behind. As he and Italia grow closer, he seems to find some sliver of happiness that has eluded him since he lost his love. It seems that perhaps that power that he has to locate, excludes location of himself - or that by tying himself to that which is buried, he always leaves a sliver of himself behind in the ground.

With an eclectic mix of comedy, intrigue, and longing, La Chimera reflects its title in that the meaning that each character is searching for always eludes them - especially those with too much heart.

La Chimera opens in the USA from Neon on March 29th, and in Canada on April 5th from Elevation Pictures and Entract Films (Québec).

La Chimera

  • Alice Rohrwacher
  • Alice Rohrwacher
  • Carmela Covino
  • Marco Pettenello
  • Josh O'Connor
  • Carol Duarte
  • Vincenzo Nemolato
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Alice RohrwacherCarmela CovinoMarco PettenelloJosh O'ConnorCarol DuarteVincenzo NemolatoAdventureComedyFantasy

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