Movie Review


Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun 

Production Company: Touchstone Pictures
Director: Audrey Wells
Principals: Diane Lane, Lindsay Duncan, Raoul Bova, Sandra Oh
Rating: PG-13 (sexual situations, some mild obscenity)

By Gregg Tubbs

( -- Love can make you do crazy things. So can losing it. In Under The Tuscan Sun, loosely based on Frances Mayes’ bestseller, newly divorced Frances (Diane Lane) does one of those crazy, impetuous things while on a trip to sun-drenched Tuscany. She buys a dilapidated villa named Bramasole and decides to leave San Francisco and her old life behind. Roughly translated, “Bramasole” means “something that yearns for the sun,” which aptly describes Frances as well. Her recent and acrimonious divorce has left her life empty and gray and, over time, the warm Tuscan sun proves to be just the tonic she needs.

When Frances Mayes’ (Diane Lane) life takes an unexpected detour, she packs her bags for Tuscany, where, on a whim, she purchases a villa in an effort to restart her life. Photo © Copyright Touchstone Pictures
Lane received an Oscar® nomination last year for playing the guilt-wracked wayward wife in Unfaithful. In this film, the tables are turned. She plays Frances who is devastated by her husband’s affair and following the divorce, is in danger of becoming, what her friends call “one of those empty shell people” – people who experience a terrible loss or heartbreak and never really recover. This is Lane’s first true star-turn, where she is expected to carry a film. The good news for her and us is that she is so appealing and assured that the film glides along briskly on the strength of her performance and the gorgeous Italian setting.

This beautifully crafted film is deeply romantic and shot in the vibrant hues of those old Technicolor classics of the 1950’s. As Frances continues to blossom as a person, the filmmakers use her lighting, hair and costumes to gradually transform her into one of those radiant romantic screen heroines of Hollywood‘s yesteryear. It’s to their credit, and Lane’s, that this transformation never seems artificial, but adds to the emotional richness of her reawakening. 

Indomitable pleasure-seeker Katherine (Lindsay Duncan, left) urges Frances (Diane Lane, right) to “live spherically”—to grab life while it is passing within reach. Photo © Copyright Touchstone Pictures
For Frances, restoring the run-down villa to its former glory mirrors the rebuilding of her own self esteem, her sense of adventure and her willingness to love. In the process, she becomes den-mother to a motley group of Polish contractors who are working on her house, and builds new friendships with her neighbors. Her most colorful new friend is Katherine (Lindsay Duncan), an expatriate English actress whose elaborate wardrobe and outrageous lifestyle are remnants of her early days acting for legendary Italian director Federico Fellini. She’s a free spirit whose advice helps Frances shed her past and open up to new possibilities.

Just as the restoration of Bramasole hits a few rough spots (what 300 year-old villa doesn’t have a few plumbing problems?) so too does Frances’ rediscovery of herself. At times, she tries too hard – impatiently yearning for romance, companionship and happiness. She complains to a friend in a climactic scene, "I bought a house for a life I don't even have."  When asked why she did it, Frances replies, "Because I'm sick of being afraid all the time." In particular, she struggles to shake the fear that her dreams of having a wedding and a family in her Tuscan villa will never come true. Sensing her anxiety, Katherine gives her advice from her youth. “When I was a little girl, I used to run around in the fields all day, trying unsuccessfully to catch ladybugs,” she explains. “I’d get tired and lay down for a nap. When I awoke, I’d find the ladybugs walking all over me.” The lesson was clear, sometimes you have to slow down, be patient and let happiness come to you.

At the heart of the film is Frances’ need to mend her broken heart and rekindle her romantic confidence. Having been discarded by her husband, she questions whether or not she’s still “got it.” A touching, and emotionally honest scene following a romantic weekend with handsome Marcello, makes it clear that her emotional healing could not be complete without an affirmation of her own sexuality. Evidence of her new strength and independence is apparent when this romance proves short-lived and she shakes it off with an aplomb that she never could before.

After restarting her life in Tuscany, Frances (left) falls for a handsome antiquities dealer named Marcello (right). Photo © Copyright Touchstone Pictures
Toward the end of the film, she glances about Bramasole and realizes that in some respects, here dreams have indeed come true. Her house is filled with love and friends and, as for the wedding – you’ll have to see the film to find out. Just like Katherine’s ladybugs, the things she yearned for had been found. With a sense of wonder, mixed with relief, she says, "Unthinkable good things can happen -- even late in the game. It's such a surprise." What’s not a surprise is that audiences have enjoyed their time Under The Tuscan Sun. You will too.

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Maryland.

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