One name that always draws me to a film is Edward James Olmos, familiar to a generation as the taciturn captain Castillo in Michael Mann’s tv series Miami Vice, but also a much garlanded actor for projects as diverse as Stand By Me and Battlestar Galactica. He’s reached the stage of his career where he can play kindly grandpas, but not without spark; part of the charm of Paul Meins’ film is that it’s got a deceptive tale to tell that’s less sentimental than might be expected..
There’s a framing story here, about a teenager tracing his family roots in Spain, but the central drama takes place in Australia, in a wine-growing community where a family are in turmoil. Michael Crisafulli plays Savino, a twelve-year old with a passion for the skies; his grandfather gives him an antique telescope to see the wonders that might be viewed from the top of a nearby rock. Savino and a friend go off on a secret mission to make an illicit visit to a nearby rock at nightfall, but an accident awakens his father’s paternal instinct, and the trip ends in disaster when the telescope is broken. Savino’s dad (Antonio de la Torre) is furious with the grandfather’s gift, and the old man is forced to leave the family home-stead, but the wonders that he promised Savino are still in the pipeline.
Filmed over five years, Chasing Wonders is a thoughtful coming-of-age story, illuminated with knowing, heartfelt performances, and has a number of things to commend it; better than average female characters (Paz Vega and Carmen Maura as Savino’s mother and grandmother respectively) and also a firm take on family politics; the old know best, but tragedy leaves a genuine mark on everyone concerned. The framing story could be stronger, but the central drama manages to pull off a dramatic twist without pushing the story into melodrama, and the conclusion is satisfying and upbeat.
‘Every child grows up thinking their father is either a hero or a villain until they realize he is just a man’ runs an opening caption; Chasing Wonders is a little saltier than most coming of age dramas, with drinking, smoking, a dash of sex and some dangerous behaviour, but you can’t make a pearl without a little grit. One critic called this film a ‘hidden gem’ and that’s about right; it’s a perceptive look at families and parents that recognises how hard it can be to be your own person in a big family. And Olmos knocks it out of the park is the key support role; he’s a terrific actor who knows how to milk the drama here for the best possible results.
Chasing Wonders is streaming now on Starz in the US. Thanks to Gravitas Ventures for access. chasingwondersfilm.com