La Chimera

COMIC DRAMA; 2hr 12min (Italian with subtitles, English)

STARRING: Josh O’Connor, Isabella Rossellini, Carol Duarte, Vincenzo Nemolato

Nocturne: Duarte and O’Connor

At the outset, tattily suited Arthur (The Crown’s O’Connor, looking nothing like Prince Charles) is one angry man. Fresh out of prison — for grave robbing, on which more below — he heads by train to Italy, where he shuns his merry friends and subsists in a hillside shack.


As Happy As Lazzaro director Alice Rohrwacher’s 1980s-set narrative takes drifty, oblique shape, Arthur is revealed to be a British archaeologist with a buried stash of stolen Etruscan pottery and an idealised lost love (Yile Vianello as Beniamina) for whose essence he is futilely searching. Beniamina is Arthur’s own tragic chimera, the impossible ideal of her driving him deep into the tombs of her fellow departed. The dowsing skills that take him there are an uncanny gift and a boon to his impish gang of tombaroli, for whom grubbing underground is a crackbrained game with the ignoble aim of money for jam.


For Arthur, the thrill of discovery is more muted, moving as he does in a perpetual British fog. His heaviness of heart is the axis around which Rohrwacher’s picaresque cast of characters spin their erratic wheels in an fluid arc of diminishing circles that are, frankly, taking them all nowhere (Rossellini is a standout, ruling her crumbling roost as mercurial matriarch, and Beniamina’s mother, Flora, while Nemolato lightens the dusky mood as chipper tomb raider, Pirro).


The sole chance of a fresh start for Arthur could lie with the resolutely alive Italia (Duarte), to whom plundering the treasures of the dead is just plain wrong. But to earn that deliverance, Arthur would need to connect with something lost at the core of himself — and some unseen wounds can never be repaired.