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  • Wendy Shreve

CHASING WONDERS TO FIND YOUR ROOTS


Brothers and sisters I have none but this man's father is my father's son. Who is this man?

(Riddle)*



If all adults carry baggage from their childhood, as some would argue, then escaping to another side of the world to leave your past behind could be futile. Savino's father, Felipe, (Antonio de la Torre) believes otherwise. He has uprooted his family from wine country in Spain, including his brother and in-laws, to start a vineyard in Australia. The acclimation, years later, has been long plus fraught with challenges.


The earth, however, continues to nurture the fields. We observe succulent red grapes, once left behind, that dot bountiful green vines, whetting our appetite or thirst. At night, fairy lights strung along the rows emit a bewitching spell from the vineyard. Only when the noon-day sun hits the parched earth and Savino's father slap his spade into the ground does the reality of hard work become illuminated. His intensity doesn't waver. Goyo, Savino's uncle (Quim Gutiérrez), gladly helps his brother; however, the sensitive Savino wants no part of it.


As Savino struggles to escape his father's volcanic temper, his grandparents do their best to alleviate their grandson's unhappiness. In particular Edward James Olmos (who also narrates) as Luis, the grandfather, sees the child share his perspective on life: they're both dreamers. A fact that infuriates Savino's father even more.


After giving the boy an antique telescope for the boy's birthday, his grandfather encourages his grandson to search for the mysterious Emu Plains. Savino takes the quest to heart. He and his schoolmate, Skeet (Jarin Towney) decide to do their own walkabout of sorts to find the magical place.


Few lags occur in Chasing Wonders (2021). Director Paul Mein's exquisite vision of Screenwriter Judy Morris's story stirs our senses. Each scene has value. Light and shadow images enhance quiet or stormy familial scenes; lush or barren landscapes. Balanced perfectly by the cinematographer, Denson Baker; so much so that the viewer can't help but become connected to the visual story.


And, what an actor who portrays the boy. Michael Crisafulli as Savino makes a distinct impression; at one point innocent; another more mature than his years; always burdened with confusion and fear. How difficult, moreover, it must've been for the younger Crisafulli to perform scenes with the veteran actor Edward James Olmos--no hint of tentativeness lurks in the boy's interactions. He also holds his own with the other fine performers in this story.


Flashforwards involve Crisafulli (who has grown up in real time) as the older Savino searching for his roots in Spain; the transition is seamless. We speculate from the beginning what impels Savino to make this journey and what has happened to shape him, so much simpler with the same actor.


The women in Chasing Wonders have their own challenges. As Savino's maternal grandmother, Carmen Maura, Maribel, plays the supportive wife but has her memorable contributions. While Savino's mother, Adrianna, (Paz Vega) attempts to watch from the sidelines as she balances the books and cares for her family, until she has little choice. Finally, there's Janine (Jessica Marais), the Aussie girlfriend of Savino's Uncle Goyo. She holds her own amidst the seething testosterone.


In the end, this movie centers on patriarchal relationships. How much ire or misery can a boy handle from his father, bickering among the family, and unexpected departures before Savino too becomes his father's son? Watch Chasing Wonders for the moving revelations.


*Answer to riddle - My son


Unrated. Language, physical and verbal fighting, adult themes and brief (drawn) nudity.


The film will be available in theaters and on North American digital HD internet, cable and satellite platforms on June 4, 2021



Earlier reviews are also available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies


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