TWO STARS - SHALLOW
The beauty of Tuscany is due to the warmth and life-giving power of the sun. Yet, as humans, we need far more than the sun’s light to light our way to an equally luscious life. This truth is depicted clearly in Audrey Well’s adaptation of Frances Mayes’ book “Under the Tuscan Sun.”
When beautiful literary critic and professor Francis Mayes (Diane Lane) is divorced by her husband after years of having an affair, Francis finds herself without a home and a life. Unable to write and having her home purchased out from under her by her husband and his lover, Francis is given a trip to Tuscany by friends. Reeling from pain and grief, on her trip she impulsively buys a dilapidated villa named Bramasole which, in Italian, means “something that yearns for the sun.” It is clear that Francis yearns to bring light into her darkness. What follows this impulsive attempt to find light and life is disappointing, both for Francis and for those of us who travel to Tuscany with her.
Befriended by a moral and compassionate realtor named Martini (Vincent Riotta), Francis experiences true care. This relationship is all the more healing because Martini is not only happily married, but he is faithful to his wife and does nothing inappropriate with Francis. This example only makes her search for an honest man all the more desirous.
As the film parallels her refurbishing of the old villa as she attempts to rebuild her own life, the comparisons are obvious. For example, as a snake slips into her bedroom, she soon has a charming Italian slip into her arms. Francis easily sees the danger of each but she is nevertheless unable to remove either the snake or the temptation from her life.
After Francis is devastated by her slithering lover when she finds him with another woman, the next parallel is in the plumbing in their home. The illegal Polish workers she has hired to rebuild her villa have mixed up the hot and cold pipes and she has hot water in her toilet. This mirrors her confusion of when to be hot and when to be cold in her own relationships.
In a secondary love story, one of the Polish workers falls in love with the daughter of the wealthy family next door. Willing to lie to support their forbidden relationship, Francis becomes invested in their relationship and vicariously enjoys the garden wedding setting her villa provides for them.
When her friend comes to the villa to join her during the last months of her pregnancy after having been rejected by her lesbian partner, the film completes its trilogy of tales.
The disappointment experienced by viewing this film is the absence of any spiritual faith or supportive belonging provided by a faith community. Francis, named after one of the compassionate Christian saints who also rebuilt an old structure, a church which was used as a hospital for the poor and ill, has little sensitivity to her own soul or the souls of others. As a writer who wishes to enrich our lives, she exhibits only the shallowest of understandings about life and exhibits little knowledge of how to really live. In seeking the light, Francis did not look in the more obvious places, such as the Source of faith and love exhibited by Martini, which he had gained from his Christian faith. That would have been a deeper, more enriching tale.
- The disappointment that Francis experienced in discovering her husband was unfaithful for years devastates her soul. What do you believe would have been different if her best friend had been a person of faith?
- The nature of renewal is to build a life on solid foundations. How did Francis buying a villa a half world away do this or not do this?
- When Francis lies to support the young love of her worker and neighbor, she undermined both her own and their integrity. What do you believe this will do to their marriage and her involvement?
- The ability of the sun to bring life to Tuscany and the ability of the Son of God to bring life to Francis would have been an interesting journey. What do you believe Martini could have done to bring this about? How do you think Francis would have responded?
- The attempt to build community and a family by providing meals to her Polish workers was only partially successful. What do you believe was missing?