Happily, Kaurismaki’s filmmaking skills have not slackened in the interim. While not quite as bleak as those earlier movies, he does an intriguing job of taking classic rom-com tropes and finding new ways of approaching them. The deadpan style of humor he has always favored ends up fitting in nicely with the romance that he has conjured up (aided in no small part by the lovely performances by Vatanen and Poyta, who make for a very winning couple), and film buffs will enjoy his little in-jokes and homages to his favorites. Besides the shout-out to Jarmusch, this film has the nerve to make two separate references to the works of Robert Bresson within the same scene. At the same time, he gets us to care enough about Holappa and Ansa as characters so that when the obstacle of his alcoholism rears its head, we are invested in how the story will resolve itself.
Another welcome return is that of Alice Rohrwacher, whose latest effort, the alternately bizarre, amusing, and lovely “La Chimera,” marks her first narrative feature since 2018’s “Happy as Lazzaro.” Set in the early 1980s, the film is focused on Arthur (Josh O’Connor), a one-time archaeological scholar who misused his almost preternatural ability to sense where long-buried Etruscan treasures have been buried in the Tuscan countryside by falling in with a strange gang of homeless locals that helped him dig them up in the middle of the night to sell them to a mysterious dealer. This is not exactly shadowy work, as it turns out—most locals know what is happening and have done the mental gymnastics required to justify such morally and ethically dubious actions.
As the film opens, Arthur has just been released from prison after doing a stretch for grave-robbing and returns to the same Tuscan area to the crumbling manor owned by aging aristocrat Flora (Isabella Rossellini), who is the mother of Benjamina, the long-lost love of his life who everyone assumes, save for Flora, to be dead and whose presence continues to haunt his dreams. Although his old cohorts are delighted to see him and pick up where they left off, Arthur initially has no interest in returning to his sleazy former ways. Inevitably, the lure of all that hidden treasure just begging to be found proves to be too much, and he soon finds himself digging around again—possibly because rooting amongst the belongings of the dead helps to bring him closer to the memory of Benjamina. Making things more complicated this time around is the presence of Italia (Carol Duarte), who is Flora’s singing protege (and unpaid maid) and who offers him the potential promise of a new life spent entirely among the living.