La Chimera (2024) – Review by Andrea Carnevali

La Chimera ⭐⭐⭐

Arthur works alongside a group of grave robbers looking for Etruscan artifacts buried underground. Out in cinemas now.

Josh O’Connor is really having a great year! It was only a few weeks ago that I found myself bewitched by his charisma and the electric chemistry with his co-stars in Challengers and now I’m seeing him speaking in Italian throughout the entirety of this film. (To be honest, his diction and pronunciation is far from perfect, but that’s also the point of the film).

While I was watching La Chimera I found myself thinking that this is the typical type of film that gets praised by the critics and yet will probably bore the general audience out of their minds. As always in these sorts of situations, I sat a little bit in the middle.

It is a rather languid and melancholic film, for sure, deliberately unpolished and looking muted, just like O’Connor’s pale clothes, but at the same time it can be playful, and it has a haunting and rather mesmerising quality to it.

Directed by Tuscan-born Alice Rohrwacher, it depicts an Italy in the 1980s, which I could hardly recognise, but I know it exists. An Italy much closer to the grim Gomorrah rather than the “picture-perfect” holiday destination one would dream to travel to.

In it, O’Connor (Arthur) seems to be almost stranded, looking almost like a zombie at times, drifting somewhere between the living and the dead, the past and the present, trapped in grief and haunted by the ghosts of his past.

He works alongside a band of picaresque grave robbers (the tombaroli… a lovely made-up Roman word, pretty much untranslatable) looking for Etruscan artifacts buried underground in the many ancient tombs scattered around countryside just outside Rome.

There is magic in this world too: Arthur possesses a gift of sensing where the treasures are buried, and nobody seems to question that.

Rohrwacher’s approach is sometime realistic, sometime whimsical (though I wasn’t particularly keen on her speeded up effects). She uses 35mm and 16mm films, mixes formats and aspect ratios, almost like to blur the lines between reality and fantasy.

Sometimes her camera is invisible, other times you can even see the rough edges of the frame itself as if somebody tried to cut them with a pair of old scissors.

In a few occasions the camera even swings about and frames Arthur upside down, like a hanged man, from a pack of tarots. And just like the title itself, La Chimera (another of those tarots which might symbolise an illusion, a fabrication of the mind or a dream which cannot be realised), everything here is open to interpretation, you just have to be willing to go with it.

I didn’t think it completely worked for me (I found it at times a bit too esoteric), but there was enough to inspire me, intrigue me and even move me… And that ending (no spoiler of course) is still haunting me, 24 hours later.

One final mention should go to Isabella Rossellini, here in a supporting role, made up to look even older than she is today, and yet sublime as ever.

That’s enough to recommend the film to those who are looking for something different than your average summer blockbuster, even if a bit too artsy and intellectual for its own sake.

The film is out in cinemas across the UK.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival 2023

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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