Director Alice Rohrwacher Explains Her Creative Process in La Chimera


La Chimera tells the entrancing story of Arthur (Josh O’Connor), a wounded British archaeologist who loots Etruscan graves with the tombaroli (or tomb robbers) in a desperate search to find his lost love, Beniamina (Yile Vianello), in ’80s Tuscany. The film co-stars Isabella Rossellini as Signora Flora, Beniamina’s wheelchair-using mother, and Carol Duarte as Italia, her vocal student hiding a big secret.




Writer/director Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders, Happy as Lazzaro) continues to astound with another brilliantly creative idea that defies simple categorization. She says, “The idea of working with the world of the tombaroli was something that I have been playing with for a long time. All the men and boys in my little town would go out at night and search for these treasures to sell them. I often wondered where they found the courage, not so much to go against the law of the living, but to go against the law of the dead.

Rohrwacher and her longtime collaborator, acclaimed French cinematographer Hélène Louvart, dazzle with a unique visual experience that changes frame rates, aspect ratios, and film stock during dream-like sequences. Rohrwacher anticipates what “some images may be” during her writing process, but believes in the “great pleasure of discovering things during shooting.” She states:


The invisible must be revealed through the use of our camera.​​​​​​​ The visible part is something that can be created in the writing stage​​​​. Images must reveal the hidden threads of our story.

Read on for our complete interview with the talented Alice Rohrwacher, whose short film Le pupille was nominated for an Academy Award in 2023.


Alice Rohrwacher’s World of the Tombaroli

La Chimera

3.5/5

Release Date
March 29, 2024

Director
Alice Rohrwacher

Runtime
130 min

Studio
Tempesta, Amka Films Productions, Rai Cinema, Ad Vitam Production, RSI-Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Canal+, ARTE, Arte France Cinéma, Ciné+

MovieWeb: Congratulations on making another brilliantly original film. Where did you get this idea of an archaeologist searching for his lost love in ancient tombs?


Alice Rohrwacher: The idea of working with the world of the tombaroli, tomb robbers, was something that I have been playing with for a long time. It’s a world that I’ve gotten to know quite closely over the course of my life. I grew up alongside this fever in the ’80s and ’90s. There was a true fever for Etruscan treasures. All the men and boys in my little town would go out at night and search for these treasures to sell them. And so, for this reason, I’ve had a lot of a lot of opportunities to talk about the tombaroli. I often wondered where they found the courage, not so much to go against the law of the living, but to go against the law of the dead.

Related: La Chimera Review | An Entrancing Exploration of Devastating Loss


Alice Rohrwacher: I always thought that you can escape from a policeman, but you cannot escape from a curse. And therefore, I had this idea for a long time. But during the pandemic, we all had to confront as a community, as human beings at a collective level, the idea of death. That’s when I came up with the idea of this archaeologist. I was reading diaries of young romantic authors who, in the 19th century, would come down to Italy, and they fell in love with beauty. They would fall in love with the statue, with a painting. I thought that this could be my guide. I could use this romantic character as my guide.

Hidden Threads in La Chimera

MW: I’m always blown away by your visual style and creativity. La Chimera changes frame rates and aspect ratios from eight millimeters to 16 and 35. There are also scenes where Arthur uses a divining rod. The camera rotates and brings you into his world in a very intimate way. When writing the script, do you foresee this visual style or is it something done during filming?


Alice Rohrwacher: When I write the script, some images are already clear in my head. But I also had the pleasure of anticipating what some images may be, just like the way a water diviner searches for emptiness below. But it is a true pleasure for me to work during shooting with [cinematographer] Hélène Louvart. And looking for images that are not meant to accompany our storytelling, but they’re meant to reveal it.

So, to some extent, images must reveal the hidden threads of our story. They must reveal what is invisible. The visible part is something that can be created in the writing stage with our casting process, costume department, and set design department.

Alice Rohrwacher: But then the invisible must be revealed through the use of our camera. Therefore, on the one hand, I do have some ideas when I’m writing. But on the other hand, I also have a great pleasure of discovering things during shooting. We shoot in film. This means that we’re making our movie during the shooting and not in post-production. Therefore, as a methodology, it’s a lot more fascinating.


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Not Easy to Grasp

MW: Let’s discuss the tone of the film, particularly the use of the tombaroli and Signora Flora’s [Isabella Rossellini] daughters, like a chorus from ancient Greek classics, where they summarize the plot in the background. They’re humorous, may be villainous, and angry after Italia’s reaction to their grave robbing. How would you describe those characters and the overall mood of the film? Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? I always hear this term magical realism to describe your work. Is that what you want to express to the audience?


Alice Rohrwacher: Let’s just say that this movie is a chimera, and the chimera, in and of itself, is an animal, a mythological animal made up of many different animals combined. Therefore, it is a tragic story. It’s a story of a man that lost the woman he loved, and is looking for her as if it was possible to look for people that are no longer with us. Then there’s a mother that lost her daughter. So, all in all, it’s a tragic story.

“However, the way of life is not just tragic. There is often a lot of comedy and a lot of adventure. There are many different emotions combined. They pull in the same direction. So let’s say that the film has a very particular tone. I could say that it’s like a song. It’s like a song that changes. It’s a very long song, where one is drawn in, and there’s a rhythm. Then, little by little, you discover what the tone of the film is.”


Alice Rohrwacher: Right from the start, I wanted to shake the viewer. We are faced with a scene on a train where, all of a sudden, a very beautiful young man has an outburst of violence. So, at first, we think it’s the story of a violent man. Then, right away, glorious music starts. It’s there to tell us that this man is not a dangerous man, because he’s our hero. Now we’re going to follow him.

Alice Rohrwacher: So, it is not easy to describe. I’m very happy that you noticed. It’s not easy to grasp or to describe because we live in a world where you need to divide or classify movies, put them in the comedy section or family section or adventure section. Whereas this is a movie that sort of flows away from your hands. It’s a movie that you cannot grasp and any definition of it is very complicated.

La Chimera will be released theatrically in the US on March 29th from NEON. You can watch the trailer below:




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