Under the Tuscan Sun
directed by Audrey Wells
(Buena Vista, 2003)

Under the Tuscan Sun answers, definitively, one of my life's great questions: What will I do when I win the lottery?

Writer Frances Mayes answered my question (though it's not the question her character, Frances, was asking) in her 1996 book by the same name. If there's a house in Tuscany, I'm its new owner as fast as I can buy a plane ticket to Italy.

The 2003 film version doesn't, in many spots, hew very closely to Mayes' book. Movie characters arrive; book characters disappear. What stays, though, is a worn villa slowly brought back to life by Frances, an existence shattered by divorce painstakingly reborn and a landscape so beautiful it can't help but nudge Frances in the direction of peace and healing.

It is, above all, a tribute to the places in life a little whimsical decision can take one, and the need to build the track before the trains arrive.

To explain:

Frances (Diane Lane) impulsively leaves her American tour group when she decides to buy Bramasole, a villa in the Italian countryside that's fallen on hard times. Her stateside life in shambles following a divorce -- and bringing along a hefty savings account from selling the old house -- Frances decides to fix up the villa, put down roots, find someone to love and build a family.

But love doesn't come easily, the house is a mess and Frances' spirit remains broken -- until Signor Martini (Vincent Riotta) tells her about a train line built decades ago, through the mountains, between Venice and Austria. It was built, he says, long before any train was designed that could cross the towering mountain pass. It's the moment that changes Frances: Lay the groundwork, and the dreams will follow.

It's not an especially original message; what gives Under the Tuscan Sun its considerable strength and its charm comes from Diane Lane. And, on her performance, it soars.

Her gleeful reawakening at the charming touch of Marcello (Raoul Bova) is such an exuberant piece of joy. Her real spark with Martini, made all the more potent by their reticence, carries the mark of romances in an earlier era.

Lane's ability to capture those moments when we strive to smile through heartache, or when our brave facade crumbles, or when we realize we've somehow gotten what we've asked for (and what do we do with it now??) just flow so well.

Add in the curves of Tuscany, the long, low light, and it's a film worth dreaming over.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 19 June 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.