La Chimera (2023)

Directed by Alice Rohrwacher

Just out of jail, crumpled English archaeologist Arthur reconnects with his wayward crew of tombaroli accomplices – a happy-go-lucky collective of itinerant grave-robbers who survive by looting Etruscan tombs and fencing the ancient treasures they dig up.

I knew I was going to be in for a treat when the Illustrated title sequence appeared with a needledrop of Jordi Savall's recording of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo: Charon was only allowed to ferry dead souls across the River Styx, but Orpheus played so sweetly for him that he relented... This did somewhat signpost to me the idea that the mysterious Beniamina was already dead and that what it means to 'look' or see something or someone would play a major role. But it's not as if I could have predicted the rest of this commendably enigmatic yet approachable art film.

Some scenes from La Chimera are literally haunting me in that I can't stop thinking about them a few days later: the discolouration of the wall paintings for one as well as the brutal decapitation of 'Venus'. Although La Chimera can be (irreverently) described as a slowburn, magical realist version of Indiana Jones crossed with Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), this is a film that "utterly occupies its own fictional space", is confident enough to literalise the shopworn idea of 'hanging onto life by a thread' and is brave enough to finish with a highly symbolic yet deeply mysterious ending. I found myself smiling as the credits rolled for no reason I can articulate — some things are not meant to be seen by human eyes.