Sebastián Lelio warms up San Sebastián with ‘The Wonder’, a powerful plea against fanaticism

Successfully adapted books like Angela’s ashesMemoirs of Frank McCourt, or brooklynby Colm Tóibín, have shown us the poverty of a Ireland punished by famines and its eternal conflict with the English. The Wonderdirected by the Chilean Sebastian Leliowinner of an Oscar for best foreign film for a fantastic woman (2013), takes us to one of the hardest moments in its history, 1862, when the country went through a terrible famine. As a woman tells in the film, times when people locked themselves in their houses and sealed the doors with nails so that no one would see how they fell dead in the street.

In the middle of the debacle, in the remote region of the Midlands, a “holy girl” appears That dazzles the Irish. The young woman is about 12 years old and according to what everyone seems to believe, she has four months without eating. To see if such a “miracle” is possible, a committee of local notables (the doctor, the priest, the mayor, etc.) summon two nurses, a laywoman (Florence Pugh) and a nun, to watch over the girl. 24 hours and check if he eats or does not eat.

We are in a movie, as is emphasized at the beginning in an introduction with the sets in view, and it is already known that in movies we are willing to believe that demons possess people, aliens roam the world and men fly. However, this is not a film about the fantastic in life but precisely the opposite, on the victory of harsh reality that will always occur when confronted with magical thinking. It is supposed to be something that is clear to us in the West at least since Descartes, the Greeks themselves already spoke of the passage from the superstitious to the rational, but our own time seems to confirm that this leap is by no means assured.

The Wonder It is not a film against religion but against fanaticism. It is about the destruction caused by the substitution and manipulation of facts to become fantasies that give us some kind of spiritual warmth. There is no difference between those movie fanatic parents who want to send their daughter “to heaven” because God kills the best youngsters to be their “angels” and the poor Russian parents who will send their children to an absurd war because they believe that there are still Nazis in the Ukraine. In times of fake newsof crazy theories on the Internet and of exaggerations and slanders, The Wonder it reminds us of the irrefutable value of reality, the absolute validity of the truth in the face of lies.

There is also a complex and extremely interesting aspect of the film. Normally, in the Irish narrative, the English are the bad guys and they are the victims. We see it, for example, in the production of an Englishman like Ken Loach, The wind that shakes the barley (2006), winner of the Palme d’Or, or in famous titles such as michael collins (Neil Jordan, 1996) or In the name of the Father (1993, Jim Sheridan).

In this sense, the fact that the protagonist of the film, that nurse desperate for the homicidal madness of the Irish, is English is an interesting twist with resonances in today’s world on a larger scale. It is not that the Irish “deserve” their poverty because nobody deserves it, but it does raise the eternal conflict between the first and third world with an interesting nuance that goes beyond the usual dialectic of aggressor and victim. In other words, the misery of that Ireland, and today of many countries, is above all related to the lack of education, or rather pure ignorance, partly due to a power structure interested in nothing changing.

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