Michael Crisafulli, Antonio De La Torre, Paz Vega, Edward James Olmos, Carmen Maura, Quim Gutiérrez, Jessica Marais
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Charming in a low-key, unadorned kind of way…
The coming of age trope is unquestionably one of the most frequently visited in the history of cinema, investigated with often stunning beauty and authenticity in the works of filmmakers as varied as Francois Truffaut, Cameron Crowe, John Duigan, John Hughes and Richard Linklater. Some of that same poetry is certainly evident in the new drama Chasing Wonders, a winning tangle of British, Spanish and Australian influences that keeps the stakes small and recognisable while offering up visual images that are nothing less than gorgeous.
The result is a quiet, low key chamber piece occasionally ripped apart by violent emotion. The performances are strong, and the film also shines a light on the gifts of veteran Australian actress/screenwriter Judy Morris (Happy Feet, The Eye Of The Storm). And while attributed to the mysteriously credit-less Paul Meins, the film was essentially directed by Englishman Jim Loach (who worked in Australia previously on the brilliant Oranges And Sunshine), who left the project just before post-production, from whence it was eventually completed by its producers.
The film begins with the teenaged Savino (played with engaging warmth and energy by impressive newcomer Michael Crisafulli) visiting the Spanish home of his father. From there, we track back to the earlier childhood of Savino (played still by a much younger Crisafulli in a Boyhood-style move, with the film shot over a period of five years), who lives on a South Australian vineyard, where he constantly butts heads with his stern, angry, unsmiling father (veteran Spanish actor Antonio De La Torre rages with believable rancour), much to the consternation of his quietly caring mother (an excellent Paz Vega) and her parents (screen legends Edward James Olmos and Carmen Maura). Lightness comes from the beauty of his surroundings, along with his fun loving uncle (Quim Gutiérrez) and his Aussie girlfriend (Jessica Marais), but Savino’s life is one of constant battle.
Charming in a low-key, unadorned kind of way, Chasing Wonders belies the messiness of its production process to feel wholly coherent and seamless, and rates as another strong entry in the well-and-truly dog-eared coming of age genre.