‘Chimera: a thing which is hoped for but is illusory or impossible to achieve.’

That is Arthur’s (Josh O’Connor) curse. A scruffy archaeologist with dowsing powers is in demand by small town rascals looking for a quick return from grave robbing. His skill also in demand by villains working for high-end relic collectors.

But Arthur is also on personal journey. His beloved Beniamina (Yile Yara Vianello) has passed away, though when he returns to a rundown house owned by Flora (Isabella Rossellini), there’s talk of her return among the residents. And she is present though only in fragments of poor-quality home-movies.

The more immediate issue for Arthur is the need to make some money. His gift enables the gang of local tomboroli (graverobbers) to find an untouched tomb with a supposedly priceless statue. It’s time for a celebration only to be tricked by their dealer Spartaco (Alba Rohrwacher), a decision that all come to regret.

Threaded into this is Arthur’s growing friendship with Italia (Carol Duarte), a singer and mother. With Italia he finds some solace, however Arthur’s natural unsocial personality, doesn’t allow him to get too close, and the friendship drifts.

Reaching back to Happy as Lazarro (2018) Alice Rohrwacher has created a fantasy around a character through which the rotten world is viewed. A dilapidated town surrounded by an industrial wasteland with people who have little regard for anything other than themselves and money.

As such Rohrwacher is not easy on the viewer. There’s never much of an attempt to make many of the people in the film very attractive (other than the waspish Flora and Italia) so there’s an element of distance.

Greed and self-interest perpetuate the story, on the male side, there’s more sorority among the women in the film, to a point.

As the characters aren’t that engaging in themselves the burden lies with story, which aside from some fantastical elements is straightforward, though at two hours fifteen minutes, strained. That all puts extra pressure on the actors which they are up for with O’Connor excellent as the morose Arthur, his grief palpable effecting every decision. His life and loss mean there is instinctive empathy for him but he’s not an easy character.

There are laughs, though it would be stretching to describe La Chimera as a comedy. And a senseless act could cause a sharp intake of breath. That will depend on the individual to a large extent, and their interest in archaeology.

Technically the film looks wonderful as Rohrwacher mixes the screen ratios up and the quality of the stock. This goes for the soundtrack that ranges from classical to electronica. Both incongruous though the film’s over-arching mysticism mutes the oddness of it all.

This may ostensibly be a film about a miserable, grief stricken. Misanthrope. However, this is also as much a film about film and cinema’s capacity to entrance and whisk the viewer away from reality, for a while.

La Chimera will be in UK cinemas from 10 May 2024 and Curzon Home Cinema from 21 June 2024.