La Chimera review: Josh O’Connor is bewitching in Alice Rohrwacher’s otherworldly drama

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
La Chimera stars Josh O'Connor.
La Chimera stars Josh O'Connor. Credit: Palace Films

La Chimera is a story teeming with loss.

It may present as a playful film with a sprinkle of magic but underlying its exuberance, physical comedy and big personality is a sadness of what’s no longer there.

Directed by Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher and starring British actor Josh O’Connor, La Chimera is set in 1980s Tuscany.

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Arthur (O’Connor) is a former archaeology scholar now tomb raider in a crumpled and marked linen suit. He’s the “finder” in a gang of low-level grave robbers who steal treasures buried with the dead for the passage in the afterlife.

Arthur possesses an ability to sense where the goods are, locating them seemingly in a trance state, with a dowsing stick, before everyone jumps in with the actual thieving. They then smuggle the goods to a fence operating out of a vet clinic.

La Chimera stars Josh O'Connor.
La Chimera is set in 1980s Italy. Credit: Palace Films

While it appears he’s living a vagabond life with his three changes of tatty clothes and an ever-present layer of dirt, making do in a shabby lean-to he’s constructed out of found materials, Arthur is deeply rooted to his community even if doesn’t quite belong.

He does whatever he can to maintain his vestigial connection to his possibly dead girlfriend Beniamina (Yile Vianello) including staying in the life of her mother Flora (Isabella Rossellini), an aristocrat whose dishevelled mansion has also seen better days.

La Chimera courses in longing for lives that no longer exist. It’s in Flora’s draining wealth, her daughters bemoaning the state of the house while laying claim to its treasures. It’s in the items pilfered from the undergrounds burial places, relics from the past that should be allowed to be left alone.

Even Arthur’s gang of thieves feels like a callback to a time much further past than the 80s. Rohrwacher gives them a nomadic and spirited existence, not casting judgment on an enterprise that is ethically dubious and definitely illegal.

La Chimera stars Josh O'Connor.
Isabella Rossellini as the mother of Arthur’s lost girlfriend. Credit: Palace Films

And it’s in Arthur’s emotional torment. It’s rarely explicitly references but the ghost of Beniamina hangs all over Arthur. It’s in his physicality and his reluctance to move on.

O’Connor is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing and versatile young actors. He may be best known internationally for playing the younger Prince Charles in The Crown, and while he is rightly lauded for that portrayal, it’s probably his least interesting high-profile role.

The sensitivity and restraint he showed in God’s Own Country is far removed from his coy and film-stealing performance in the upcoming Luca Guadagnino threesome movie Challengers, which are both still so different to what he’s doing here in La Chimera.

There’s a precision to his balance of Arthur’s heavy moroseness with a spritely mischief. It’s a remarkable, complete performance and in Rohrwacher, O’Connor has found the perfect directing partner.

La Chimera stars Josh O'Connor.
La Chimera is directed by Alice Rohrwacher. Credit: Palace Films

Together, they’ve created a character that feels both loose but hemmed in by his emotional burdens.

Rohrwacher (Happy as Lazarus) is a film festival favourite and she has a gift for constructing worlds that seem adjacent to our own. There’s an otherworldly quality to them, as if they’re not quite rooted in reality, as if we’re watching a pocket universe created by Hades, the god of the underworld.

There’s an allusion to Orpheus and Eurydice, the doomed lovers separated by the veil between worlds, with Orpheus desperate to reunite with his soulmate. Arthur too wants to be with Beniamina again, what bargain is he willing to strike?

Rating: 4/5

La Chimera is in cinemas on April 11

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