In Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, the past is so close you can almost touch it. In fact, many characters do.

The film’s central band of Italian tomb robbers — or tombaroli — regularly pillage gravesites peppered throughout the Tuscan countryside. They physically force historical artifacts into the present, transporting them from their longtime homes of soil and stone to buildings of glass and steel, where they’ll be sold to the highest bidder.

But the past lingers here in other ways, too. Our head tomb raider, an Englishman named Arthur (Challengers and The Crown‘s Josh O’Connor), is haunted by visions of his lost love Beniamina (Yile Yara Vianello). But are these memories, dreams, or some more ghostly calling? La Chimera thrives in that fuzzy area between life and death, past and present, creating a gorgeous fantasy that is charming and melancholy in equal measures.

La Chimera invites us into a tale of tomb raiders.

Three tomb raiders dig up a tomb along a small dirt path.

Melchiorre Pala, Josh O’Connor, and Vincenzo Nemolato in “La Chimera.”
Credit: Courtesy of Neon

Our first introduction to Arthur is not that of an Indiana Jones-esque archaeologist, but of a disheveled man down on his luck. Just released from jail for some good old-fashion grave pillaging, Arthur curls up asleep in a train car, wearing a rumpled white suit. There’s something alluring about him: The three local young women sitting nearby can’t help but ask where he’s from. Yet there’s something volatile to him too. A remark from a passing salesman about how bad Arthur smells draws his ire, provoking a miniature fistfight that sends all the train’s passengers scurrying away from this angry foreign stranger.

It’s in this state of rage that Arthur arrives back home in Tuscany, where his fellow tombaroli await his return. Despite Arthur’s initial desire to keep his distance — especially from the mysterious antiques dealer known as Spartaco (Alba Rohrwacher) — it’s not long before he’s back in the tomb-raiding business. Turns out, he özgü a knack for finding ancient burial sites using a dowsing rod, an ability that leads the tombaroli to describe him as a kind of sorcerer.

Rohrwacher and cinematographer Hélène Louvart lean hard into the magical realism of Arthur’s mysterious power. The scenes of his searching are filmed with lingering care, while his moments of discovery lead to the entire world being flipped upside down. It’s a striking motif, one that recalls the image of the hanged man in tarot decks (which is also referenced in one of La Chimera‘s posters).

Alice Rohrwacher crafts a soft fantasy with La Chimera.

A group of men and women ride a tractor through a parade.

Luca Gargiullo, Melchiorre Pala, Vincenzo Nemolato, Ramona Fiorini, Josh O’Connor, and Giuliano Mantovani in “La Chimera.”
Credit: Courtesy of Neon

Arthur’s gift is far from the only fantastical element in La Chimera, which is so full of magic it welcomes us into a near-dream state. The recollections of Beniamina tout imagery that would be right at home in a fairy tale: Flocks of birds mid-flight, lost figures wandering through gorgeous landscapes, and a trailing red thread that pulls Arthur towards some impossible treasure.

Elsewhere, Arthur often visits Beniamina’s mother Flora (Isabella Rossellini) in her massive house, which is so vast and beautifully frescoed that it may as well be a palace. Apart from Arthur, Flora’s only companion is her music student Italia (Carol Duarte), whom she treats more like a maid. Sometimes her flock of daughters stops by as well, but their constant gossiping and scheming about Italia recall wicked stepsisters more than loving family members.

It’s with these bricks that Rohrwacher builds the fantasy of La Chimera, along with some lighter touches. A musical troupe’s song all about Arthur and the tombaroli makes for a charming accompaniment of their exploits, situating us in what feels like a much older adventure film. At times, characters turn to the camera to confide directly in the audience. At others, footage is sped up to create delightfully herky-jerky chase scenes. There’s a real sense freedom in all this experimentation, and you can’t help but get swept up in Rohrwacher’s vision.

Josh O’Connor is superb in La Chimera.

A woman leans her head on a man's shoulder while they stand on a beach below a factory.

Carol Duarte and Josh O’Connor in “La Chimera.”
Credit: Courtesy of Neon

Throughout these fantastical interludes, Rohrwacher and O’Connor keep La Chimera rooted in Arthur’s loss and pain. While the tombaroli hunt artifacts for financial gain, his quest walks the line between needing money and needing to find some greater meaning. Early mentions of a door to the afterlife clue us into the true purpose of his constant searching, even as elements of his life (like a possible romance with Italia) bind him further to the world aboveground.

O’Connor proves achingly excellent as Arthur, threading the needle between his desperate quest and the more grounded aspects of his time away from the tombaroli. That balance is present throughout the film, but especially in a party scene that sees him yearning for Italia one minute, then digging like a madman in the dirt the next. It’s an unexpected combination of charming and haunted, and O’Connor nails every beat. You find yourself wanting to jump down in the dirt alongside him and search for the many buried treasures La Chimera still özgü in store.

La Chimera is now in theaters.