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Author Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) is depressed following her divorce from an unfaithful husband. When her lesbian friend Patti (Sandra Oh) offers Frances a ticket on a gay tour of Italy, Frances accepts and becomes the sole straight member of the group. During a stop-off in Tuscany, Frances falls in love with a crumbling villa owned by a stern Contessa. Satisfied that God has given his approval to Frances, the Contessa sells the villa and Frances begins the mammoth task of renovation. With the help of three illegal Polish immigrants and real estate agent Mr Martini (Vincent Riotta) who has a crush on her, Frances gradually makes her new house liveable and finds romance with wealthy playboy Marcello (Raoul Bova).

Review by Richard Kuipers:
Under The Tuscan Sun is a perfectly acceptable piece of fairytale escapism. Full of pretty pictures and the kind of rustic charm that greets English-speaking movie characters whenever they visit Italy, this soft and fluffy holiday postcard is given a touch of class by Diane Lane's appealing performance as a despondent divorcee in need of a vacation. Where better to go than the country that has served the romantic requirements of Hollywood so well ever since Audrey Hepburn played chase and kiss with Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953) and Dorothy McGuire took her girlfriends husband-hunting in Three Coins In The Fountain (1954).

Italy is as dependable as ever here, as Frances discovers once she hops off the gay tour bus and sets her sights on a crumbling villa owned by one of those stern aristocratic matriarchs who doubtless has been sitting alone in a darkened room for years, just waiting for a good American woman to melt her icy heart. Diane Lane possesses exactly the kind of face to accomplish such a task and once the stern Contessa cracks her first smile since the war and sells Frances the house, the rest of the film sets out to make good on the assertion by Frances' lesbian pal Patti (Sandra Oh) that "Italians know more about having fun than we do".

With three illegal Polish workers on hand to help a renovation rescue of the dilapidated digs (burst water pipes and fuse-box explosions will be encountered), Frances needs only to be seduced by a slick Italian playboy before realising that good and true love was right in front of her all the time. Fulfilling the hunky lover role admirably is Raoul Bova as sexy Marcello, whose powerful bedroom eyes are matched by the thrust under the bonnet of his Masseratti. What's a girl to do but fall for his charms before discovering what we in the audience knew all along about this rotter?

If we're in any doubt that Under The Tuscan Sun has nothing to do with reality, consider the character of Katherine (Lindsay Duncan). This eccentric Englishwoman has no visible means of support and pops up whenever the screenplay requires some spice. Dressed like an extra from Fellini's 8 1/2 and claiming she was told to "live spherically" by the master himself, Katherine has no reason to be in this story but her presence is welcome whenever she materialises. The same applies to the constant supply of oddball locals who drift into Frances' view in between cement renderings and furtive glances at real estate agent Martini (Vincent Riotta). It's credit to Lane that Under The Tuscan Sun works at all. A lesser actress may have struggled to bring anything substantial to a tale nestled inside such tickety-boo surroundings. She manages to make us care for Frances and brings a depth to the character that isn't always in the script.

Review by Louise Keller:
A story about love, happiness and family, Under The Tuscan Sun is an often delightful, highly romanticised adventure about starting a new life in Italy. Although I haven't read the book by Frances Mayes, it is easy to imagine this to be the kind of story whose words dance descriptively off the pages, allowing our imagination to soar.

In the screenplay, director/ writer Audrey Wells brings the story and characters to life with plenty of verve and colour, but we always feel as though life has been rather romanticised, making it less than believable. For example, when Frances sees the 'For Sale' sign outside the villa from the tour bus, she calls out to the driver, asks him to stop and when we next see her, she is walking through the door, suitcase in hand. And that's before she has even negotiated to buy it! But perhaps I'm being pedantic.

Once Frances convinces the owner that she is the right person to buy the property (the 'sign' is a pigeon making its mark on her head), it's a case of finding the right builders to help her with renovations. Ironically, it's a band of Polish labourers who start to work on her home and become her 'family'. But perhaps the first real 'sign' comes when she first catches sight of the extroverted and hedonistic Katherine, who delights in wearing extravagant hats and eating ice-cream. Mindful of Katherine's advice to 'never lose your childhood enthusiasm', Frances is bewitched by the charming and very Italian Marvello; their romantic liaison in the exquisite village of Positano is the epitome of a romantic seduction.

We drool at this and other drop-dead gorgeous locations through Geoffrey Simpson's camera lens; the Mediterranean is blue, and the lifestyle enticing. But there are other distractions - from the secret love-affair between one of the Polish labourers and the daughter of a local landowner to the unexpected arrival of her friend Patti, who promptly gives birth to her bouncing baby girl. Diane Lane is captivating as Frances, and even though some of the adventures are rather unlikely, we sincerely care about her and are willing her to find the happiness she is so vividly seeking. Lindsay Duncan's Katherine is the film's most memorable character - so filled with unorthodox incongruities - and Sandra Oh as Patti, brings unexpected charm.

Watch for the 'La Dolce Vita' scene, as Katherine dallies in the fountain and the highly amusing portrait painting scene that involves an artist called Zeus (who is studying Tuscan light) and a smattering of carefully positioned ostrich feathers. Raoul Bova makes a charming Marcello, and we, like Frances, fall in love with the idea of an exotic Italian love affair. You may not sizzle Under the Tuscan Sun, but the sunshine is warm and romance is in abundance.

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(USA / Italy)

CAST: Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan, Raoul Bova, Vincent Riotta, Mario Monicelli, Roberto Nobile, Anita Zagaria, Evelina Gori, Giulia Steigerwalt, Pawel Szajda, Valentine Pelka

DIRECTOR: Audrey Wells

SCRIPT: Audrey Wells (book by Frances Mayes)


EDITOR: Arthur Coburn, Andrew Marcus

MUSIC: Christophe Beck


RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 12, 2004


VIDEO RELEASE: July 7, 2004

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