Written by: Robin C. Farrell | June 2nd, 2021
Chasing Wonders (Paul Meins, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.
Chasing Wonders centers on Savino, a young boy growing up on a struggling, South Australian vineyard alongside his family, interspersed with flashes forward to Savino as an older-teen, voyaging to his father’s home in Spain. Both versions of Savino are played by newcomer Michael Crisafulli, as the film was shot over five years, yet the two timelines are exquisitely woven together, due in no small part to editor Nicolas Gaster (Willow). Both Savinos are on quests, though of the down-to-earth, real-world kind, and the details of each remain unclear until the conclusion. As a child, Savino forms close bonds with his grandfather, Luis (Edward James Olmos, The Devil Has a Name), his uncle, Goyo (Quim Gutiérrez, Last Days), and even Goyo’s girlfriend, Janine (Jessica Marais, Playmaker Media’s The Wrong Girl series). The conflict, meanwhile, is primarily driven by strained relationships with Savino’s father, Filipe (Antonio de la Torre, Cannibal).
A real challenge for any tale such as this is to create depth among even the antagonists, and this film strongly succeeds. All of these relationships feel layered and complex. Even with Filipe’s sullen and severe philosophy, he is not without silent moments of concern. A few tender glances at his wife, Adrianna (Paz Vega, Rambo: Last Blood), his open surprise and remorse in learning distressing news about Luis, and an interspersed, slow-burn reveal of long-buried grief indicates that this is not a man without a soul, nor is he a mustache-twirling villain, or even a person so riddled with misery that it has drained him of all empathy or heart. However, neither the script nor the performance excuse Filipe’s behavior. The stakes, however small and personal, are clearly defined. The story never careens too far into any extreme, avoiding becoming too volatile and maintaining cohesion, all enhanced tremendously with the stunning cinematography by Denson Baker (Measure of a Man).
The film builds to a conclusion that dodges an overabundance of melodrama, opting for a more stripped-down truth that lands beautifully in its finesse. About midway through, however, we get a noticeable, extended absence of time-jumps to the present. The film also opens, closes and is peppered with narration from Luis (framing Savino as the protagonist), followed by Filipe, but the point of view sometimes shifts to Adrianna and, occasionally, even to Goyo. These are not nearly enough to derail the piece, but they stand out due to the rest of the narrative’s fluidity. Despite falling into the not-unfamiliar realm of coming-of-age stories, Chasing Wonders stands out via its distinctly quieter, far more understated approach. Striking visuals, smooth transitions, and the wisdom that it’s never too late to seek or extend forgiveness all combine to deliver a beautiful viewing experience.