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Under the Tuscan Sun

  under the tuscan sun
Diane Lane is blinded by the Tuscan sun.

© 2003, Touchstone
All Rights Reserved

Based on the autobiographical best seller by Frances Mayes, "Under The Tuscan Sun" (IMDb listing) revolves around Frances (Diane Lane), a newly divorced woman who is having a hard time adjusting to her single life. On the insistence of her lesbian friends (including Sandra Oh, "Last Night"), Frances is sent on a vacation to Tuscany to clear her head. Once there, she impulsively buys an ancient villa. Looking to revolutionize her life, Frances integrates herself into the local surroundings while she fixes up her home, finding friendship and romance in a foreign land as she tries to figure out just what she wants out of her once dreary life.

A movie like "Under The Tuscan Sun" comes second when you have a star like Diane Lane to contend with. Sure, you have gorgeous Italian vistas and deliriously appealing culture to swim around in, but Lane's performance is the real reason "Tuscan Sun" is such an achingly successful picture. Since her Oscar nominated turn in last year's "Unfaithful," Lane has finally come into her own. "Tuscan Sun" seals the promise made by "Unfaithful," giving Lane another chance to inhabit a true female character. Lane's Frances is a complex assortment of thoughts, feelings, and passions, with Lane landing each character moment precisely right. She can bounce from sensual to self-conscious in a matter of seconds, and makes each motion authentic. I couldn't name another actress who could play the role of Frances with such skill; it's as if Lane was born to play the part. Even after slaving away in the industry for over 20 years, Lane has never been better in her career than the last year. "Tuscan Sun" is an intense reminder of just how powerful an actress Lane is, for without her, this film would not have the luxury of working so well.

Of course, as much of a knockout as Lane is, she is assisted by the Italian countryside for goodness sake. "Tuscan Sun" is directed by Audrey Wells ("Guinevere"), and she is skilled enough to let the camera soak up a little Italian splendor. "Tuscan Sun" works as a dramatic piece as much as a travelogue, with its languid gazing on the water-color sunsets and rolling hills. As a backdrop to Frances' journey, the natural beauty is a crucial reminder to the audience why the characters are acting the way they do. The vistas can be taken on their own when the drama occasionally sputters. It's a stunning movie to behold.

What makes Wells such a crafty director is that she uses the locations as a way to lull the audience into false hope. Wells takes liberal screen time to hypnotize the audience with the Italian magic, soothing the soul with shots of olive-colored flesh, bountiful food, and luscious accents, only to pull away every so often to introduce a reminder of the cruel realities of life. Wells handles the transitions expertly, seldom letting the pace of the film slacken in the process. She is working from a book, which can be the cause of many transitional headaches. "Tuscan Sun" only has one: a fading Englishwoman (Lindsay Duncan) who lives the Fellini life in the local town and gives Frances pep talks on how to break free from her timidity. Wells never quite finds a comfortable enough angle on this character, making her asides a distraction from the central plot thread.

"Under The Tuscan Sun" could have been a grotesque, "You go girl!" take on single womanhood, but due the power of the filmmaking, and the magnificent work from Diane Lane, "Tuscan Sun" transcends all expectations and becomes something truly magical and sincere.

Filmfodder Grade: A-

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