The film feels rooted in a way none of Bertolucci's films have for a very
long time. His sense of place is always powerful, and the production design
reinforces everything sensuous and strong that about Italy, including
life-size clay statuary reminiscent of ancient Etruscan figures. The
evanescence of the performances is balanced by the daring, muscular
production design that serves the story well. One anecdote has Bertolucci
dying the gravel in the driveway Etruscan red to control the frame of a shot.
If it's true, it was worth it; but we don't want to listen to such
smoke-and-mirrors stories, because the natural appeal of Tuscany is like a
big rocking chair where Chekhov slumbers - waiting to be awakened by an
Liv Tyler plays Lucy, a 19-year-old virgin - yes, a source of embarrassment
to her, too - who visits friends of her recently deceased mother to uncover
the identity of her real father. Her quest leads her through a group of
adults in various stages of disappointment, decadence and death. But Lucy is
strong enough to see them for what they are, to measure them against her own
dreams, and to integrate what she learns across the threshold of adulthood.
Liv Tyler never makes a false move. She cuts a wide swath through the
artists' colony assembled in a remote Tuscan villa. Her Lucy has the
self-conscious vanity of a rock'n'roll teenager as well as the
unself-conscious flirtation of a beautiful young woman among aging hipsters.
She meets a dying Don Juan (Jeremy Irons), a sculptor intent on creating her
likeness (Donal McCann), a dotty Frenchman (Jean Marais), an advice columnist
(Rachel Weisz), and an earth mother (Sinead Cusack), who was the best friend
of Lucy's mother, a character who deserves more development.
Bertolucci's story contrasts states of alienation, the fresh alienation of
the young and the pentimento of those who have lived with it into the far
turn. In the opening scene on a train, he views Lucy as parts of a body
through the eyes of a stranger's camera. Gradually, Bertolucci assembles
those parts through her growing self-discovery. As we hear Lucy's mother - a
poet and beauty in her own right - discussed, Lucy begins to replace the
picture of her mother with a deeper understanding of her as a woman. For most
of her life, Lucy regarded her father as a mystery or a rumor she kept at bay
but now begins to surface in her thoughts. What kind of man would have been
with such a woman 20 years ago?
Because the story is relatively simple, Bertolucci frees his characters to be
complex. His approach to Lucy, who reflects the clean beauty of the unwritten
page, is to let us see her in parallax, from the point-of-view first of the
assorted men on this art farm: Do any of them demonstrate true paternal
feelings toward her? Or do they just want to steal her beauty? And then
through the eyes of her dead mother, whose beauty Lucy will have to claim,
even to steal, to become her own woman.
Lucy's successful quest would be banal in the hands of most directors. But
Bertolucci both constructs the architecture of a detective story applied to
the process of growing up and refrains from the temptation or melodrama of
some plot-shattering discovery. He is neither above a happy ending, nor
afraid of joy. He even steals the beauty of Tuscany for us. The landscape
becomes mythic, the actors heroic, and the gods have little else to do but
look on in wonder at the small pleasures of human life.
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