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'La Chimera': A Cache-22

Bailey Plumley and Nick Zidarescu both saw and loved La Chimera (2024). This is their joint testimony.

Back in April, we (separately) saw Alice Rohrwacher’s latest film, La Chimera. We both loved it so much that we decided to record a conversation about it. Unfortunately, that transcript ended up being twelve pages long, so we decided to provide a reader-friendly, spoiler-free debrief of our conversation. This is one of those movies for which talking about it helped us to clarify our thoughts and untangle the themes. Enjoy.

Both of us were quickly taken with the film – Nick actually saw it three times in theaters and is now a proud owner of the DVD. La Chimera follows Arthur (Josh O’Connor), a British archeologist fresh out of prison in 1980s Tuscany. Upon his release, he is determined to locate his late lover Beniamina (Yile Vianello). He soon reunites with Beniamina’s mother, Flora (Isabella Rosellini), and his gang of tombaroli (grave robbers, the reason for his imprisonment in the first place). Arthur resumes his position as de facto leader of the group due to his supernatural ability to find gravesites. He uses a dowsing rod and sees visions (the titular chimera, meaning “the impossible dream”). He also makes the acquaintance of Flora’s maid Italia (Carol Duarte), and a romance eventually blossoms between them. We both appreciated the film’s visual beauty (and we don’t just mean Josh O’Connor), and its elements of magical realism only enhanced our admiration. 

La Chimera might initially come across as a “no plot, just vibes” type of movie. Its pace is at times meandering, and it likes to linger on little moments between its characters. The film’s picturesque and dreamlike qualities can obscure the fact that the plot has quite a bit of momentum. Although the devotion to story might differ from conventional Hollywood filmmaking, a plot of sorts is formed through a constant commitment to its concepts. It develops its own kind of plot – its own cinematic language. 

One of the threads we enjoyed unraveling was the film's portrayal of the human aspiration for more, which the movie explores on both a personal and economic level. There’s a general human condition, especially in today’s world, of always wanting more, and feeling that the current situation could be improved. In the film, this manifests in a growing divide between Arthur and his gang. They want more riches and thus aspire to loot grand Etruscan artifacts, whereas Arthur’s motives have always been more personal. For him, being in the tombs is a way to be closer to his departed girlfriend, whom he hallucinates throughout the film. Their reunion is another chimera. This key difference is what makes him eventually become disillusioned with the robbing: this deep betrayal of the past by digging up things that were never meant to be unearthed for money.

Arthur’s relationship with Italia pulls him in yet another direction as he finds love that might make him stop seeking Beniamina, but also because Italia disapproves of his grave robbing. There’s an endless temptation in all directions – old love, new love,  or the thrill of robbing. Italia and her lifestyle present a stability that Arthur could accept into his life, but the life of crime, with its mystical visions and constant discovery, is just as alluring. The grass is always greener. To be with Italia, Arthur must turn on his old ways and let go of the past, tethering himself to a new life. It’s scary and overwhelming. 

That’s another big theme of the movie – the ownership of the past. The grave robbing is a pretty direct commentary on this. We see the tombaroli stealing these artifacts from their original owners, but to make money they have to (illegally) sell them to art dealers, who in turn auction them off to museums. There’s a continuous change of ownership whereby stolen items belonging to long-dead people are laundered to now be the legal property of a legitimate state institution.  Arthur’s search for Beniamina and his grave robbing are intertwined, but if he’s to move on with his life to be with Italia, he must let go of all this. This is especially difficult for Arthur because of his supernatural ability to find these buried tombs. The film also explores the idea of a deeper self that can’t be changed – is character inherent? The gift Arthur possesses obviously gives him a thrill. Humans are prone to boredom. The grass is always greener. 

It’s hard to be present in today’s world. We’re always in pursuit of something more – something that will keep us thrilled or placated or otherwise occupied. But sometimes what we really need is peace, even though we might not feel like we need it in the moment. Being present, taking life as it comes, learning to let that guide your future, and letting go of the past is what La Chimera is all about. 

La Chimera is available to rent on VOD and should be streaming on Hulu later this year. Nick wants to make sure all the ladies know that it’s also available on DVD (Blu-Ray) at his house. 

-Bailey & Nick


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