Josh O’Connor plays a Brit abroad in La Chimera, an atmospheric Cannes contender set in rural Italy in the 1980s.
He plays Arthur, a cultured man who seems to be down on his luck, just travelling in the suit he’s wearing.
Arthur comes back to the home of his girlfriend, Beniamina. She is mysteriously absent, but her mother (Isabella Rossellini), a retired singer, welcomes him back with open arms.
He catches the attention of an aspiring singer (Carol Duarte) who has been persuaded to work as a maid/assistant in return for the occasional singing lesson.
Rossellini is funny as the forthright, exploitative matriarch, but the focus of the film shifts to other characters with dramatic stories to tell.
It’s a quietly fascinating watch, made all the more intriguing by the fact that you have no idea where it’s going.
Rather than feeling directionless, it feels gripping: writer-director Alice Rohrwacher and her cast create characters to care about, and a vivid sense of time and place.
The Crown star O’Connor is excellent in a role that was apparently adapted to fit him – he’s a quiet drifter who’s clearly experienced loss.
He also claims to have an unusual talent: using a divining rod, he can sense where bodies are buried.
This proves useful to the local criminals, who routinely raid ancient tombs to steal the artefacts buried along with their owners and sell them on the black market.
It’s riveting, and disturbing, watching them at work: we haven’t seen tomb raiding portrayed so believably on screen before (sorry, Indy).
Despite the gritty realism, the film has a poetic, dreamlike quality that often tips into surrealism.
It’s a combination that might sound challenging, but if you run with it, it’s an absorbing watch, and confirms O’Connor as one of Britain’s finest talents.
La Chimera is released on December 6, 2023.
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