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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Unbreaking a Heart
by Betty Jo Tucker

With a performance of such depth and beauty it overshadows the film's gorgeous Italian scenery, Diane Lane owns the screen in Under the Tuscan Sun. But don't mistake this fascinating movie as a run-of-the-mill "chick flick." Lane's sensational acting helps writer/director Audrey Wells accomplish her original goal -- which was "to make an ecstatic movie about heartbreak."   

"I am interested in the resiliency of the heart," says Wells, "in how people find a way to recover from emotional disasters. When I wrote the screenplay, I gave every character in the story a broken heart. The worst off, of course, is Frances -- whose marriage has collapsed and whose heart and spirit have been shattered. She barely has the courage to face the day. How can she face the rest of her life? That's her challenge, and her effort to recreate her life and start again is the story of this film."

Lane's portrayal of Frances emerges as the highlight of her acting career. Yes, I know she received an Oscar nomination last year for Unfaithful, but her work here is even better. Her character must register so many different emotions -- from sadness, anger and fear to joy and love. Amazingly, Lane never hits a wrong note. And she's just as watchable when cowering during a thunderstorm as she is while dancing gleefully over finding a new lover or gazing curiously at an ancient Italian villa.

On a whim, Frances purchases that very villa during a tourist jaunt to Tuscany, a trip arranged for her by Patti (Sandra Oh), a pregnant friend who thinks it will help her stop being so sad. It's no surprise when the renovation of the old manor house becomes a symbol of what's happening to Frances herself as she builds a new life in Tuscany. A new home and new friends -- but what about new men? Well, there's the sensitive real estate agent (Vincent Riotta). Too bad he's so happily married. And there's Marcello (Raoul Bova), a dreamboat Frances actually "bumps into" while shopping. "Your eyes are so beautiful, I want to swim in them," he tells her. Even though Frances replies, "That's just what American women think an Italian man might say to them," she falls for Marcello, and the film's steamiest love scene follows shortly. (I'm fanning myself just thinking about it.)               

Maybe a long-term romance won't work out with Marcello, but Frances soon learns the importance of friendship and risk-taking. She also discovers that if you stop looking for love, love will find you. And along the way, she realizes, as Wells explains, "The road back from personal catastrophe is full of peril. It can be inspiring, a little crazed, and like all painful things darkly funny."

Among the DVD bonus features is an enlightening "Tuscany 101" featurette with scenes of filming in Italy and commentary from Diane Lane, Audrey Wells, and the real Frances Mayes, author of the memoir this film is based upon. All three women agree about the importance of place as an influence on the main character and about how the rebuilding of the villa became a metaphor for rebuilding a life. The "Deleted Scenes" bonus surprised me -- I fail to understand why any of them were deleted, but especially the one with the singing contractor. Perhaps it's all about timing. And speaking of timing, isn't it great the  DVD/VHS of this lovely "second chances" film will be available for Valentine's Day 2004?      

(Released by Touchstone Home Entertainment and rated "PG-13" for sexual content and language. Bonus DVD features not rated.)

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