Healing In Tuscany
By Tori Placentra
In the 2003 film Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes, a well-known author and book critic, just had a divorce after her husband had an affair. Feeling disheartened, deeply wounded, and unstable she ends up on a tour of Tuscany. While in a small town not far from Florence she becomes enchanted by the spirit of the town – the colors and smells at the food market, and a mysterious women nuzzling a baby chick and eating an ice-cream cone. Frances is so enchanted that, on a whim, she buys a run down villa that is for sale. The process was incredibly quick, and before she realizes what she has done, Frances has spent just about all her money on this villa, leaving behind her broken life in San Francisco. But she is not healed yet.
Frances takes stalk of what she has inherited in the villa. She writes that she is now the owner of “ten thousand empty wine bottles, one grape (Figure 1), and every issue of La Nazione printed in 1958.” The single grape clinging to a browning branch and the disheveled nature of the house in general are representative of Frances’ life at the time – she is scattered and clinging onto a branch trying to learn to thrive again. To begin her healing journey Frances hires a crew of Polish immigrants to help her renovate her house, her Italian neighbors teach her about farming olives and elderly grandmother teaches her about Italian cooking. Frances uses her new skills to cook lavish and delicious foods for her renovating crew. Their relationships, once cold, become warm friendships full of laughter, and she becomes especially close friends with the youngest, Pawel. Food in the film allows her to connect with the people around her.
The film primarily shows this healing journey through the amount of a body shown in a shot and lighting. The beginning of the film frequently only shows parts of Frances in close shots: her face, hands, torso, or feet. These fragmented images show how Frances is fragmented. As the film progresses, the shots show more of Frances at a time, showing how she is healing and becoming more whole. Lighting is also incredibly important in this film. In San Francisco after her divorce the colors in the film are dark and the lighting washes out Frances and her surroundings, she wears mostly gray and other neutral colors. The lighting in the scenes set in Italy is warm and saturated, and Frances begins to cook with colorful food and wear more colorful clothing.
Toward the end of the movie, Pawel and Chiara have their wedding reception at Frances’ house. She realizes that her wishes have almost entirely come true – there has been a wedding celebration at her house, there is a family at the house, and she has many people to cook for. Figure 2 uses a medium long shot to show Frances’ whole body, representing the fact that she is whole again, relaxed in her crowded back yard. The garden that once was brown and housed a single grape is now verdant and thriving; it has entered a new season, and so, in a sense, has Frances.
Under the Tuscan Sun. Dir. Audrey Wells. Prod. Tom Sternberg and Audrey Wells. Perf. Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, and Lindsay Duncan. Touchstone Pictures. 2003.