Off the back of the 2023 international festival circuit that included Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and New York, La Chimera, written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, steps back in time to the Tuscany region of the early 1980s. The film centres around British ex-archaeologist Arthur Harrison, played by Josh O’Connor (The Crown), who is struggling to integrate back into life after a short stint in prison. Living in a ramshackle hut on the side of a hill and chain smoking in a crumpled cream-coloured suit, Arthur has a gift for finding lost things: specifically, Etruscan treasures excavated from the tombs of ancient villagers.

A rag-tag group of robbers known as tombaroli are glad to have Arthur back, as it means they can continue exploiting Arthur’s talents as a dowser to plunder the priceless pots and vessels for trade on the black market. But Arthur is searching for something other than objects from the past: a long-lost love known only as Beniamina (Yile Yara Vianello), inexplicably absent but constantly haunting his dreams and memories.

Josh O’Connor, who learned to speak Italian for the role, excels as a lost man living between two worlds, never truly present and at odds with everything around him. Doing her best to keep Arthur grounded in reality is would-be romantic interest Italia, (Brazilian actor Carol Duarte), cruelly nicknamed ‘broomstick’ by the coterie of crooks. Alba Rohrwacher plays the enigmatic black-market collector known as Spartaco, alongside an ensemble cast of colourful characters, many of whom are non-actors.

Filmed on location in a little town on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea, and working with three types of film (35mm, 16mm and Super 16mm), Rohrwacher and cinematographer Hélène Louvart experiment with camera angles and bursts of sped up, silent era style vignettes to tell the story, and in the process show the history of cinema for people who don’t usually get to see these formats anymore. The film itself feels like a time capsule excavated from the vaults of cinema and it’s refreshing to see people on screen without perfect bodies, perfect noses and perfect teeth. The only clue that this film wasn’t actually made in the 1980s is the presence of 70-year-old Isabella Rossellini, aged up to play local aristocrat Flora. Some of the funnier scenes occur when Flora is surrounded by her meddling daughters all talking over the top of each other in an incredibly relatable way.

La Chimera is a delightful tale full of whimsy and intrigue where the boundaries between life and death, reality and fantasy, past and present are constantly blurred.

Trailer (from Palace Film YouTube page):

Showing in Brisbane at the Palace Barracks and Palace James Street from 11 April.


Director: Alice Rohrwacher

Cast: Josh O’Connor, Isabella Rossellini, Carol Duarte, Alba Rohrwacher, Vincenzo Nemolato