Under The Tuscan Sun

on September 26, 2003 by Kim Williamson
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Wine, cheese, guests, a private literary reading inside from a foggy San Francisco: A newly published novelist thanks a former writing professor, a woman "who loves terrible ideas," for her criticism of his student work, as it led him to his matured success. About herself, she laughs, caught in writer's block on her own next book, that she is full of "abject self-loathing." Then, abruptly, she discovers through a stranger's comment that her husband is having an affair. In just the film's second scene, she's in her lawyer's office, devastated, hearing the promise that "someday you're going to be happy again." Soon, a sort of gray fog hovering over her heart's wreckage, she finds herself living alone in a rundown manse in the sun-dappled land of Tuscany.

With Diane Lane (Oscar-nominated for "Unfaithful") starring as Frances Mayes, the film adaptation of "Under the Tuscan Sun" by writer/director Audrey Wells ("Guinevere") begins with an affective propulsion best appreciated by (but not limited to) women moviegoers of a certain age, or all ages; although the narrative is far different from that lived by real-life writer Frances Mayes, whose bestselling tome of the same name recorded her life in Italy with her husband, Wells' resulting work screens like a book, full of fine phrasings and of pairings of prelude and coda in its internal story rhythms. And there lies the one problem: As Frances settles in to her life in Italy, the events are all too to-be-expected: The aged villa needs repairs, and of course they go badly, lengthily, yet end happily; she wishes for a man, longingly, lengthily, and then she meets him--as even she notes, of course he is named Marcello (Raoul Bova) (she does not seem to note that, "Under the Tuscan Sun" being in part a female romantic fantasy, he is too young for her).

The careful arrangement of loss that leads to love, of tragedy that leads to triumph, works against the depth that filmmaker Wells is striving toward, though the insistence on satisfying the wish fulfillment of distaff moviegoers is overall an audience boon. The contributions of the talent behind the scenes could hardly be better, from dp Geoffrey Simpson ("Shine")'s perfectly-hued photography to the wonderfully rustic production design of Stephen McCabe (also "Guinevere") to Christophe Beck's endlessly lyrical score. The luminous Diane Lane, always so beautiful it's hard to see how excellent she is as an actress, and her compatriots (including a poignant turn by Vincent Riotta of "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" as the warm-hearted Martini, who watches over her, and whose mature and somewhat older character is, except for the filmmaker's insistence it not be so, a perfect match for Frances) are right on the mark. They strike most every note with a resonance that--of course--carries through to the heart. Starring Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan, Raoul Bova and Vincent Riotta. Directed and written by Audrey Wells. Produced by Tom Sternberg and Audrey Wells. A Buena Vista release. Romantic drama. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Running time: 113 min

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