The Wonders
½ out of four stars
Unrated: In subtitled Italian and German.
Theater: Lagoon.

 

Attempting to be gentle but becoming throat-crunchingly boring, this coming-of-age story follows preteen farm girl Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu) through her mundane routine. The Tuscan farm being rented by her honey-producing father is a sightseer’s drab, ramshackle nightmare. Her family is dysfunctional in clichéd, entirely undramatic ways. The story’s main conflict comes from a neighboring farmer whose plant spray may be exterminating their bees. Poor, poor Gelsomina is stung by a bee. Ouch. Perhaps she will be rescued from this tedium by the new farmhouse tenant, a 14-year-old delinquent her grumpy father is overseeing for help and the child services agency’s stipend. Two sad, troubled young people flirting — wouldn’t that be entertaining? No, reader, it wouldn’t.

There are small-scale hullabaloos involving the honey centrifuge, which can cut a finger and spill its golden liquid on the floor. Things promise to pick up when a seedy local TV channel invites the area’s growers to enter its agricultural talent show, dressing in ancient Etruscan garb. Monica Bellucci appears as the show’s hostess, costumed in Halloween-style togas that minimize her legendary beauty, killing any hope for an escalating third act. Writer/director Alice Rohrwacher’s film earned a top prize at Cannes earlier this year. I would give it an award as well. This may be the best nonprescription sleep aid on the market.

 

Mediterranea
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: In subtitled French, Italian, Arabic and English.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.

 

An up-to-the-minute drama about refugees and migrants, following two Africans encountering xenophobia and hardship as they seek a better life in Italy. Two friends from Burkina Faso trek across North Africa to sail across the Mediterranean to the new land, where an acquaintance has promised them work. They arrive in Calabria at the toe of the boot, the extreme south of Italy. It’s one of the least developed regions in the economically troubled country. The jobs they hoped to find are hard to win, with little available but trading stolen goods or near slave labor in rain-soaked orange fields. Shantytown lodgings, rowdy hooligans, tough police and prejudice are everywhere, with occasional compassionate exceptions.

This is a story packed with the sort of heartbreak and worry that would be hard to sit through were it not for American director Jonas Carpignano’s touching, tender narrative skill. You’d never guess that this is his first feature. Shooting his scenes like a handheld documentary, he gives the film unexpected power, poignancy and surprising moments of amusing relief. Koudous Seihon and Alassane Sy are bona fide performers with solid personalities, the outstanding members of the film’s African émigré community. The film is matter-of-fact about the dilemmas that outsiders encounter, yet not crushingly pessimistic. Honesty and hard work have real value, and humane people are always there to invite strangers over for pasta dinner with their family. And they’re being helpful, not intolerant, when they teach newcomers the Italian custom of taking off hats at the table.

 

The Girl King
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Scenes of nudity and sexuality. In subtitled French, German and English.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.

 

Mika Kaurismäki, a popular Finnish director whose films are usually sly contemporary comedies about male rapscallions, turns to a lush English-language period biography of 17th-century Queen Kristina of Sweden. Taking the throne at age 6, she was an independent-minded ruler, shifting back and forth between her nation’s conservative Lutherans and foreign Catholic intellectuals during the bloody Thirty Years War. The script, by gay playwright Michel Marc Bouchard, also makes her nonaligned in terms of her awakening sexuality. A fine sword fighter, she is presented as warmly fond of men but romantically drawn to women. Since her controlling German mother made the young monarch spend two years kissing her father’s corpse each morning and night, you can understand why she’s not hungering for more mustaches.

The very international cast is led by Swedish actress Malin Buska. She plays Kristina as a male-dressing tomboy dividing her concentration between trying to modernize her kingdom and conquer her love interest, a countess played by Canada’s Sarah Gadon. The wonderful Michael Nyqvist (of the original “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) plays the queen’s lifelong adviser and stand-in father, who pressures her to align herself with a politically suitable young man. There’s even a supporting part for the great French philosopher Rene Descartes (Patrick Bauchau), whom she invites to Stockholm to set forth his comparatively advanced views. The film is a handsomely shot, historically informative pastime.