Five movies set in Tuscany, Italy
Tuscany is a magical land and a poetic one.
Here's my list of films that manage to capture some of the magic and can bring a little Tuscan sunshine and history into your home while you're planning your holiday:
1. A Room with a View.
1985 - James Ivory.
Based on E. M. Forster's 1908 novel, the film tells the story of a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) visiting Florence with her cousin and chaperone. The first half of the film is a wonderful way to see Florence and its surroundings as the story follows the young heroine's wanderings around the city.
On a personal level, the film was being shot when I was 17 and studying Art in Florence; a lot of the Fiesole countryside scenes were our habitual haunts and we were delighted to see them on the film!
1983 - Tarkovsky
I absolutely love this film but Tarkovsky can be an acquired taste so your mileage may vary. The story is about a Russian poet, Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovsky) who travels to Tuscany to research the life of an 18th century composer Pavel Sosnovsky. He has an interpeter, the rather severe renaissance Madonna-like figure of Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano) and they explore Tuscany together in an atmosphere of dream-like surreality.
The film is set in a series of beautiful Tuscan places:
Bagno Vignoni is a medieval spa village where the square is entirely occupied by a hot pool. It's magical, particularly if you arrive in the morning with steam gently rising from the water's surface. The film returns to the pool various times as Andrei has been asked by Domenico, somebody he befriended, to cross the pool with a lit candle in order to save the world.
They also visit San Galgano, a roofless abbey close to Monticiano,
the Val d'Orcia and my personal favourite, the 9th century Lombard crypt in the Abbey of San Salvatore, where they build a model of a pregnant madonna, inspired by Piero della Francesca's Affresco in Monterchi. During a ceremony the laces over the pregnant Madonna's belly are pulled and release a flock of sparrows into the arched vaults of the crypt. If it sounds bananas it's because it is, slightly, and all the more enjoyable for it!
3. Tea with Mussolini
1999 - Franco Zeffirelli
A film set during the rise of fascism in Italy, following the stories of a group of English women who live in Florence. They take care of "Luca", the illegitimate son of a local business man and bring him up, as his father shows little interest in his fate.
As the fascists rise, the expat community's fate becomes less clear and many start to leave, fearful of what might be coming. Luca's father decides that the future lies with Germany and sends him off to an Austrian boarding school.
Five years later Luca returns to study art and finds his group of caring expat mother figures being rounded up to be sent to San Gimignano. They are there as the war progresses, and intrigues develop. The British army finally arrives to liberate the town, leaving le "Scorpioni", as the British women were known, demanding to resume their former life in Italy.
I noticed my old school in the film - at a point when Judi Dench, playing Arabella, an aspiring artist, takes Luca to see the statues - that was (is) the Gipsoteca in the Istituto Statale d'Arte, a collection of plaster casts of famous statues that we had to practice life drawing on. An amazing place and an amazing room!
4. The English Patient
OK, I confess, I haven't seen this film. I'm including it because I read the book and I got this perfect feeling from it of some of the decaying large family villas one can sometimes find in the Tuscan countryside.
Villa Colombaia, close to Florence, reminds of what I thought it would be like - though places like Pieve di Caminino are also similar. Start as a hermits cave, turn into a monastery in the 12th century, then become a fortifed farmhold in the 15th century and are gentrified in the 17th. Then end of the 19th brings ruin to the family, a couple of German bombs do the rest, and suddenly you have the setting for the field hospital where the English Patient was being looked after.
The film looks fantastic and the story is gripping.
Much of it was shot in the Val d'Orcia rather than close to Florence, and the monastery they used was Sant'Anna in Camprena.
5. Under the Tuscan Sun
Audrey Wells - 2003
We've had, in order, buttoned up Edwardian ladies, somber and morose Russian Poets, The second World war - twice! Now, at last, it's time for a feelgood movie!
Under the Tuscan Sun is about a recent divorcee who goes to Tuscany on a holiday and, on impulse, buys a house in Cortona. She then starts to restore it with a a crew of Polish builders and to develop a relationship with the place and the people - by the end of the film everything is pointing to a happy ending.
It's heart-warming and engaging, and much of it is filmed around Cortona, Arezzo and Montepulciano.