La chimera

Italy-France-Switzerland 2023, 131 mins
Director: Alice Rohrwacher

At one point in Alice Rohrwacher’s La chimera, Josh O’Connor’s brooding English grave-robber grips a makeshift divining rod with both hands and slowly, reverently, walks through the local Tuscan wood, both actively seeking inspiration and submitting himself to its vagaries. It could almost be a metaphor for O’Connor’s approach to role selection: it’s hard to predict where he’ll go next, or to discern what exactly attracts him to the parts he chooses, but he has a knack for striking gold – a gruff Yorkshire farmer in Francis Lee’s indie drama God’s Own Country (2017), Prince Charles in the third and fourth seasons of The Crown (2019-20), an American tennis pro slugging it out against his former best friend in Luca Guadagnino’s deft, delirious Challengers.

After seeing Happy as Lazzaro, O’Connor knew he wanted to work with Rohrwacher but was told by his agent, ‘Get in line. And good luck trying to get in touch with her – she lives on the side of a hill.’ Fan letters he sent never reached her but after seeing God’s Own Country Rohrwacher contacted O’Connor and ended up reimagining the tombarolo role (originally intended for an older actor) around him.

Over a drink at a bar in Soho, O’Connor describes how he was intrigued during their first meeting when Rohrwacher asked him: ‘“If we were to cut the world in half and take a cross-section of it, what would each generation have left behind?” The Greek temples, the Etruscan treasures, shells from the wars. Then plastic was invented. I’m not sure what the 60s would have left – maybe acid tabs? What are we leaving behind now – vapes and electric toothbrushes? The Etruscans buried themselves with their worldly possessions, and that’s what they cherished.’

Which other directors have received Josh O’Connor fan letters?

Josh O’Connor: When I was 17, I read this book by Paul Auster called Mr. Vertigo [1994]. I still think someone somewhere should make a movie of it. As I was reading it, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, if Tim Burton had his hands on this movie…’ So at 17 years old, I wrote a letter to Tim Burton saying, ‘You should read this book and make it into a film.’ I was like, ‘There’s a part for Helena Bonham Carter, there’s a part for Johnny Depp.’ And then there was this one boy, the main boy – who could that be?

How did you immerse yourself in the role of Arthur the tombarolo?

We’d just come out of lockdown. I was living in New York, feeling very homesick, a little displaced. My grandmother had passed away and I was struggling with that, trying to comprehend how to exist in a world that is missing a part of itself. That’s what Arthur’s about. He’s trying to understand how to feel the void, how to join his fiancée who passed away.

In terms of learning the language, I was in New York and spent three months with [the language training company] Berlitz. You arrive at the studio and from 8am until 6pm you speak only Italian, and the tutor speaks to you only in Italian. Which was brilliant but hard. One of the big discoveries when I got to Italy was that when the plumbers, electricians and non-professional actors that Alice hires from her village were suddenly talking to me, I was like, ‘Lads, I don’t know what you’re saying.’ Even though I’d been speaking in Italian for three months. So then you pick up the dialect. It was such a joy.

Several characters in the film, including Arthur, look remarkably Etruscan.

Yeah. There’s that early scene where I’m talking about that girl on the train, saying that she has a very Etruscan nose. I remember I did this movement [traces his finger from the middle of his forehead down to the tip of his nose], and Alice said, ‘Josh, don’t highlight your nose – it makes you look very Etruscan. It sounds like you’re talking about yourself.’ But I did it anyway. Also, my costume, which deteriorates throughout the film, seemed like it was becoming part of the ground. I lost lots of weight and I grew a beard. I feel like I did become this Etruscan relic.

Also, I was living in my camper van, so most of the time I stank. I was washing myself in Lake Bolsena. It was absolute bliss. People often misconstrue [this] as some sort of Method acting. It wasn’t, it was like a fucking holiday. I loved it. It was an excuse to be dirty and filthy all the time.

Did you meet any tombaroli?

It’s so illegal I can’t say who they are, but there are real tombaroli in the film. So there you go. See if you can figure out which ones!

The tombaroli are normal people. What Alice is really interested in, and what I’m really interested in, is how our attitudes have changed over time. We can’t find any evidence that Etruscans built homes to live in, but they built tombs. It’s like they didn’t build anything to live comfortably in, but they did build stuff to die comfortably in. And I always found that very interesting. For them, the afterlife, the stuff you can’t see, held more importance than what we exist in now. We’re so far from that today.

You’ve just worked with Rohrwacher and Guadagnino. Is there something that draws you to Italian filmmakers?

Well, Luca is a fantastic director, Alice is a fantastic director, so in some ways it’s just a coincidence. But I’ve always been a big fan of Italian film. Accattone [Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1961] and The Flowers of St. Francis [Roberto Rossellini, 1950] are two of my favourite movies.

But also, it’s the way the Italians make films. I sometimes wonder: what if we had an Alice Rohrwacher? She spends six months shooting, on film, with a huge cast of professional and non-professional actors and an entire crew she’s got to keep available for half a year. That’s expensive. And the Italian film industry backs her fully, time after time. I don’t know if we would do that here or in America.

Did you watch any films in preparation for La chimera and Challengers?

I rewatched Accattone for La chimera. I felt that the way Accattone holds himself was quite Arthur-esque, or vice versa. Alice sent me a homemade book with over 200 films to watch. At the time I was like, ‘I’m gonna watch every one,’ but obviously I couldn’t. I am making my way through them, though. There’s all sorts in there. With Challengers, it was more straightforward; I knew what I was doing. The Social Network [2011] and Superbad [2007] were two films I drew on. But beyond that, nothing.

The roles you take on are so diverse. Do you think there’s a single thing that unites all your characters?

I don’t think so. People have asked me, ‘What are you trying to figure out about the fragile nature of masculinity?’ And for a while I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what’s leading me to all these roles. I’m trying to figure out what the male problem is.’ But I don’t think that’s true.

It’s been really funny having La chimera and Challengers come out at the same time. These two roles could not be further apart. Though there are some similarities. I think they both have a bit of anger in them.

The way I see characters, particularly after having played them, is like I leave a little bit with them at the end of each project, and a little bit of them stays with me. So I’ve got this collection of souls that I care very deeply about, but I can’t really group them together.

Article and interview by Arjun Sajip, Sight and Sound, June 2024

Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher
©: Tempesta SRL, Ad Vitam Production, Amka Films Productions, Arte France Cinéma
A Tempesta, Carlo Cresto-Dina, Rai Cinema production
In co-production with: Ad Vitam Production, Amka Films Productions, RSI Radiotelevisione svizzera, SRG SSR, Arte France Cinéma
With the participation of: Arte France, Canal+, Cine+
In association with: TRT-Sinema
With the support of: Ufficio federale della cultura, Direzione Generale Cinema e Audiovisivo
Created with the support of: Aide aux Cinémas du Monde, Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, Institut Français
Presented by: Tempesta, Rai Cinema
World Sales: The Match Factory
Executive Producers: Eli Bush, Jeff Deutchman, Alessio Lazzareschi, Tom Quinn, Michael Weber
Produced by: Carlo Cresto-Dina
Produced by - for Rai Cinema: Paolo Del Brocco
Produced by: Alexandra Henochsberg, Pierre-François Piet, Gregory Gajos, Amel Soudani, Michela Pini, Olga Lamontanara
Line Producer: Giorgio Gasparini
Associate Producers: Manuela Melissano, Valeria Jamonte
Production Manager: Alessandro Stella
Location Manager: Laura Petruccelli
Location Manager (Swiss Unit): Marco Parrella
Post-production Co-ordinator: Monica Verzolini
1st Assistant Director: Nicola Scorza
Casting Director: Chiara Polizzi
International Casting: Fiona Weir
Written by: Alice Rohrwacher
Story: Alice Rohrwacher, Pietro Marcello, Carmela Covino
Story Collaborators: Maurizio Braucci, Sabrina Cusano
Script Collaborators: Carmela Covino, Marco Pettenello
Director of Photography: Hélène Louvart
Underwater Camera: Aldo Chessari
16mm Camera Operator: Ilya Sapeha
AI VFX Supervisor and Visual Artist: Fausto Vitali
Visual Effects: Chromatica Visual Effects Roma
Special Effects: Ghost SFX S.R.L.
Editor: Nelly Quettier
Assistant Editors: Shara Spinella, Giorgia Villa
Production Designer: Emita Frigato
Art Director: Elisa Bentivegna
Set Decorator: Rachele Meliadò
Set Decorator (Swiss Unit): Cécile Grieder
Costume Designer: Loredana Buscemi
Make-up: Esmè Sciaroni
Hair: Daniela Tartari
Titles: Manuel Faticoni
Colourist: Thomas Bouffioulx
Choreography: Valentina Marini
Sound Recordist: Xavier Lavorel
Sound Mixer: Maxence Ciekawy
Sound Editor: Marta Billingsley
Sound Ambiance Editor: Henry Sims
Sound Effects Editor: François Wolf
Stunt Co-ordinators: Emiliano Novelli, Michele Russo
Acting Coach: Tatiana Lepore
Animal Trainer: Carolina Basile

Josh O’Connor (Arthur)
Carol Duarte (Italia)
Vincenzo Nemolato (Pirro)
Lou Roy Lecollinet (Melodie)

the graverobbers
Giuliano Mantovani (Jerry)
Gian Piero Capretto (Mario)
Melchiorre Pala (Melchiorre)
Ramona Fiorini (Fabiana)
Luca Gargiullo (the dock worker)

the sisters
Yile Vienello (Beniamina)
Barbara Chiesa (Nella)
Elisabetta Perotto (Vera)
Chiara Pazzaglia (Rossa)
Francesca Carrain (Sista)

the storytellers
Valentino Santagati (voice and guitar)
Piero Crucitti (triangle and accordion)

Luciano Vergaro (Katir)
Carlo Tarmati (policeman)
Alba Rohrwacher (Spartaco)
Isabella Rossellini (Flora)
Milutin Dapcevic (Spalletta)
Maria Pia Clementi (Spartaco’s assistant)

Italy-France-Switzerland 2023©
131 mins

A Curzon Film release

Love Lies Bleeding
From Fri 3 May
Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger
From Fri 10 May
From Fri 10 May
Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry
From Fri 17 May
La chimera
From Fri 24 May
There’s Still Tomorrow C’è ancora domani
From Fri 24 May
The Beast La Bête
From Fri 7 Jun
Àma Gloria
From Fri 14 Jun
Green Border Zielona granica
From Fri 21 Jun
Bye Bye Tiberias Bye Bye Tibériade
From Fri 28 Jun + Q&A on Fri 28 Jun 18:00
Sleep Jam
From Fri 12 Jul
About Dry Grasses Kuru Otlar Üstüne
From Fri 26 Jul

Rome, Open City Roma città aperta
From Fri 17 May
From Fri 28 Jun
The Conversation
From Fri 5 Jul

Never miss an issue with Sight and Sound, the BFI’s internationally renowned film magazine. Subscribe from just £25*
*Price based on a 6-month print subscription (UK only). More info:

Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.

Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at

We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.

See something different today on

Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at

Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email