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Graverobbers find more than what is physically lost in new film 'La Chimera'


Arthur and his crew are thieves, but you wouldn't confuse them with the "Ocean's 11" team. A new movie follows a band of (speaking Italian), grave robbers in Tuscany in the 1980s, who raid ancient Etruscan sites for artifacts to fence through a mysterious big city dealer. It's a life of grubby digging, dealing and dreaming of the big find that could lead to a big score. "La Chimera" is written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher. It stars Josh O'Connor and Isabella Rossellini in a small but scene-stealing role. Alice Rohrwacher joins us now, and we're also joined by her interpreter, Lilia Pino Blouin. Thank you both very much for being with us.



SIMON: Tell us a bit about Arthur. When we meet him, he's just out of prison. He's got a gift, though, doesn't he? - or thinks he does.

ROHRWACHER: (Through interpreter) Well, Arthur is not a nice, sympathetic character. However, inside him, there's something that's very deep. He was wounded. He is a romantic hero. He is a character that was inspired by those romantic young men that in the 19th century would come to Italy or to the Mediterranean area to search for antique ruins, to look for a statue or a fresco or a painting. And they would be stuck. They would fall in love. And so this nostalgia that we see in Arthur is the nostalgia of the romantic young man, but also it's a nostalgia for a world that has nothing romantic in it. So he himself has become aggressive. He does have a gift. He is able to perceive the void, emptiness. He is able to find things.

SIMON: Let me ask you about this flippant line I think was about my favorite. There's a local woman in the town who breaks the fourth wall and says to the camera, if the Italians had been more like the Etruscans, there wouldn't be so much machismo. How did that line come about?

ROHRWACHER: (Through interpreter) Yes. Well, at a certain point, this movie, which is a movie about a gang of males - you know, it's like a chorus of true Italian men from the '80s - therefore, men that were obsessed with having to seduce women, who are always cracking double-entendre jokes, vulgar jokes, that are obsessed all the time with making money. Well, it is not a natural state for a society, but it's the result of a choice that we've made historically. The Etruscans seem to have been a society that was a lot less patriarchal than the Romans were. Therefore, what I wonder is if that kind of society had gone forward, would - maybe this patriarchal society would not have gained ground.

SIMON: When we go to any of the great museums in America or the world and we see ancient relics, based on everything you know, are the chances good that somebody stole them at some point along the line?

ROHRWACHER: (Through interpreter) Naturally, up until a few years ago, it was very easy for archaeological objects to be stolen. People would go to a museum to look at an object in and of itself, whereas today people want to know more and more about the story behind an object, behind an item. And when an object is stolen, its story is lost. One can only imagine it in - with an approximation. I am passionate about archaeology, and I wanted to tell the story of a generation that would steal something that was sacred in the past, and then they sell it. So there's a deep change that happened within human beings, you know, within society, when materialism gains ground and anything can be bought, anything and everything can be sold, even sacred items, even objects that had been created for souls.

SIMON: Because many of the objects that they're uncovering, of course, were burial memorials, meant to memorialize the lives of people. Italy's ancient history is a blessing. But is it a mixed blessing?

ROHRWACHER: (Through interpreter) I don't know. A lot of it depends on our perspective. The past shows us that civilizations come and go. They end, and our civilization will end at one point. There will be archaeologists in the future that will look for our remains. And this gives me a feeling of happiness because when I look at my own future, I think that that future will be made not just of the things that I want to make or create, but also of the things that I want to leave to the archaeologists of tomorrow. Therefore, I think that the past is a very good thing because it allows us to change our point of view on ourselves. Having said that, it doesn't need to become something that we worship or something, on the other hand, that we need to destroy.

SIMON: Without giving away the ending, I found it made me very happy because it suggests that the living and the dead can be connected.

ROHRWACHER: (Through interpreter) Well, everything is connected if we were able to see those threads that connect things, just like mankind can be connected to nature, that what is visible can be connected with what is invisible. It's just a matter of developing the right kind of attention, the right kind of outlook or gaze being there, being available and open to welcome everything that is around us and take it in without always thinking about somewhere else that's far away.

SIMON: Alice Rohrwacher's new film "La Chimera," out now. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROHRWACHER: (Speaking Italian) Thank you.

BLOUIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.