‘La Chimera’: Josh O’Connor Is a Grieving Tomb Raider in Alice Rohrwacher’s Dreamy Italian Fable

British actor Josh O’Connor, most famous for his Emmy-winning portrayal of Prince Charles in “The Crown,” takes on a very different role in Alice Rohrwacher’s Italian drama “La Chimera.” O’Connor trades in his regal garb for a wrinkled linen suit as Arthur, an archaeology scholar and ex-con with a haunted past, who reunites with his merry band of grave-robbers in 1980’s rural Italy. But it is more than just buried treasures from the ancient world that he seeks.

Arthur is first introduced on a train after a stint in prison. He dreams of a woman whom we come to find out is his lost lover, Beniamina (Yile Vianello). He gets off at Riparbella, her hometown in Tuscany, where he stays with her grief-stricken mother, Flora (a beautifully vulnerable Isabella Rossellini). Flora firmly believes that Beniamina is still alive, and while Arthur does not say as much, he seems to hold out hope for some kind of closure. Flora’s other daughters, however, have a difference of opinion, and resent Arthur for supposedly freeloading off of their mother, although they would want nothing more than to put her in a home.

To be fair, Flora’s villa is pretty dilapidated, and most of the surrounding town is similarly rundown. And even for 40 years ago, a lot of the styles feel outdated. It’s the perfect place to engage in crime to pass the time, but it is not just little trinkets Arthur and his associates are after. Arthur has a superhuman gift for finding where tombs containing Etruscan artifacts are located, and their contents include priceless marble statues that look like they belong in a museum. But they do have a price, although they sell them for below market value to a mysterious buyer known as Spartaco, to whom Arthur owes a debt.

O’Connor is brilliant as the mostly self-contained Arthur. Arthur does not like to speak a lot unless he has to, and O’Connor manages to express so many emotions with so little dialogue. There’s this mournful air about him, and his surroundings, although enchanting at times, seem perfect for someone in his state. The tombs filled with relics from centuries past remind him and the viewer just how fleeting our lifetimes actually are.

A big part of Arthur is stuck in the past, which is probably what makes him intriguing to Italia (a charming Carol Duarte), an empathetic woman who breathes fresh air into the staleness. She’s ostensibly a music student of Flora, but the old woman admits she’s tone deaf and one of her daughter’s accuses her of just using the desperate single mother as a servant. She’s a pivotal character and intriguing to Arthur because she’s the only one who did not know him before. Also, she proves to be a voice of reason, even a much-needed moral compass for him.

Rohrwacher leaves many lingering questions in “La Chimer,” with not a whole lot of exposition given. This is very much an arthouse-style drama, rife with mystery, beauty, and symbolism in unexpected places, like the red thread that symbolizes Arthur’s connection to Beniamina. It is difficult for him to grasp for most of the film, but there for him when he really needs it.

La Chimera” releases March 29 in select theaters.