TIFF: wonderment Exam
At Sebastian Lelio’s wonderment is a textbook case of bold vision and sloppy execution. It is full of fascinating components, both visual and sonic, but fails to generate a cohesive connection between them. There are great ideas knocking on the door here, but they don’t have the strength to open it, creating an experience that completely languishes in the midst of its spurts of technical skill. It’s a magnificent bore that’s ultimately just as tasteless as the beautiful empty landscapes it revels in.
Ended with confusing breaks in the fourth wall – which in the grand scheme are just a stuck-up narrative device – the story, adapted from an Emma Donoghue novel, follows Lib Wright (Florence Pugh, in a measured performance ), a veteran Crimean War nurse, who arrives in rural Ireland to observe an eleven-year-old girl, Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy), who miraculously hasn’t eaten a crumb for four months.
Labeled a saint and a religious miracle, Lib’s investigation to determine the root cause of the titular wonder is hampered by an influx of pious tourists and devout fervor. She quickly realizes that she must take drastic measures to save Anna from an increasingly volatile situation, as a central clash between science and religion erupts around them.
A story like this calls for rich substance and character exploration, but Lelio’s direction fails on both counts, as he and his DP Ari Wegner (who continues his lyrical, atmospheric work of The power of the dog) attempt to give color and depth to an empty canvas, but throughout the execution apply only a few dollops of dynamism to an almost hollow and empty mural.
Its more intimate, heartfelt and profound conversations around the dangers of pure faith stretch too far between breathtaking vistas, where the characters thoughtfully cross the Irish moors. Yet these jaw-dropping compositions get too good and end up consuming the film’s meaty, thought-provoking ambitions, as the majority of the runtime is given up to barely-beautiful frames that don’t get the substance to do them justice. wondermentwithout a doubt, is one of the most gorgeous movies of the year, but it’s also one of the most unsatisfying cinematic experiences in recent memory.
While the film’s visuals are utterly mesmerizing, its soundscape is equally impressive. Matthew Herbert’s score merges orchestra and electronics, cementing an unconventional vibe that settles seamlessly into an ethereal flow, which perfectly captures the film’s haunting and mystifying subject matter. But its excellence only highlights the film’s thematic and narrative shortcomings. There is a distinct lack of forward momentum and soul in his exploration of the spiritual and the miraculous, coming across as cold and demanding when he attempts to appeal to the hearts of the audience, revealing more confusion than depth. .
Much like the film sets he describes in his meta-opening (which tries to bask in the fabricated nature of the story), wonderment is likewise only an empty frame – a narrative scaffolding that never comes to life and a central focus through its abbreviated narration. Its haunting visuals and sound design play no bigger role than a whimsical mantle, which has us enduring its harrowing and aimless rendition of a period piece.
The 47th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8 to 18. Find all of our coverage here.