This is a coming-of-age story. It focuses on Gelsomina, played by newcomer Maria Alexandra Lungu. Her father Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) and mother Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher) have four daughters, with Gelsomina being the oldest. They have a meager existence in farm country. The family raises sheep, sells honey, and Wolfgang and Gelso are the main beekeepers. They rarely socialize, but they do interact with the nearby farmers, but it seems like an adversarial relationship. Wolfgang is a bit domineering, indicating there’s work to be done and little time for such frivolity. Angelica’s sister Cocó (Sabine Timoteo) is there, and they are living off of some money she’s had, but it’s running out.
Gelso is slowly realizing that there’s more to life than what she knows. At one point, the family is relaxing at a lake, and manage to disturb a tv crew, who is shooting a promo for a reality show that’s essentially a local farm competition. The host, Milly (Monica Belucci), invites Wolfgang and his family to participate. He turns them down, as he considers it frivolous. He’s driven to become self-sufficient, for when it all comes crashing down. Besides, there’s work to be done and they can’t spare the time.
You see a lot of what it takes to succeed at beekeeping. I’m told there were insurance concerns in getting the film made, as they opted for using actual bees instead of some sort of digital trickery. The fact they did made me both fascinated and uncomfortable at the same time.
Gelsomina wants more than the life she has. Secretly, she enters the competition. Meanwhile, the family takes in a boy, Martin (Luis Huilca). He’s a German boy, who’s had a troubled life. He doesn’t say or do much, and Wolfgang sees him as more of a source of income, as the family’s to be given a subsidy to host him. Martin can also be another farmhand, if they can get him to do anything.
It all starts coming to a head when the reality show’s producer arrives to investigate the legitimacy of Gelso’s application for the show.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the film. It’s certainly not for everyone. The movie’s pacing is a slow walk, almost a plod. You get a sense of what Gelsomina’s life would be like. She’s barely a teenager, and is responsible for a lot of things, including minding her sisters, as well as her beekeeping duties. She almost never has time alone, as one would expect. She doesn’t even know what she wants, and is incapable of expressing that. She just knows it’s more, or something else.
The end of the film is intentionally vague, leaving open several possibilities. It’s not clear to me what will happen, but I’m certain that was the point.