The 2003 film about a woman’s self-discovery in Italy is a delightful treat.
The Cinapse Selects column is written by our team on rotation, focusing on films that are past their marketing cycle. Maybe we’ll select a silent film, cult classic, or forgotten gem. We’re all about thoughtfully advocating film, new and old, and celebrating what we love. So join us as we share about what we’re discovering, and hopefully you’ll find some new films for your watch list, or some validation that others love what you love too!
The recent executive order restricting immigration from certain countries (which has been blocked, thankfully) led me to consider how differently Americans who travel or move elsewhere are treated in comparison. An American can, say, go on a gay tour of Tuscany, decide to buy a villa, and make themselves at home with limited interference from authorities. And if this example sounds incredibly specific, it’s because it’s taken from Under the Tuscan Sun, a movie never far from my mind during this discussion of immigration. There are darker cinematic depictions of Americans abroad, but at this point I need all the brightness and thoughtful humor this 2003 film offers.
Loosely based on a memoir by Frances Mayes, the movie stars Diane Lane as a writer who purchases a villa in the Italian countryside on a whim after a painful divorce. In Lane’s hands, Frances is an affable soul, easy to befriend or accept counsel. When the witty screenplay (adapted by director Audrey Wells) isn’t charming the viewer, Lane’s evocative face is.
Frances flirts with new romance while also encouraging a blooming relationship between one of her young Polish construction workers and the neighbor’s daughter. She supports her best friend (Sandra Oh, pre-Grey’s Anatomy) after a split from her partner (played by Kate Walsh, who would also go on to Grey’s Anatomy). She becomes enchanted by a slightly older woman in town (British actress Lindsay Duncan) and they grow to be friends. Frances’s whimsical narration details it all.
A glow seems to pervade the cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson (Little Women, Fried Green Tomatoes). There’s a feeling of lushness about Under the Tuscan Sun. Indeed, Frances’s finances may not be spelled out for the viewer, but we can infer she made enough money to support her husband, and after the sale of her home in California, has enough in the bank to purchase a down-on-its-luck villa. One can assume she’s far from living paycheck-to-paycheck. This sense of privilege is an unspoken element of the film — it’s not on the level of the affluence involved in a Nancy Meyers film, but it’s not too far below that, either.
Regardless, Lane is enchanting as Frances, bumbling her way through this new chapter of her life and trying to find sure footing. There are certainly romantic aspects to Under the Tuscan Sun, but the prevailing focus is on Frances as she grows into her new solo expatriate identity. This film from Audrey Wells wins me over with each viewing.