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STEALING BEAUTY(director/writer: Bernardo Bertolucci; screenwriter: Susan Minot/from a Bernardo Bertolucci story; cinematographer: Darius Khondji; editor: Pietro Scalia; music: Richard Hartley; cast: Sinead Cusack (Diana Grayson), Jeremy Irons (Alex), Liv Tyler (Lucy Harmon), Jean Marais (M. Guillaume), Donal McCann (Ian Grayson), Richard Reed (D.W. Moffett), Stefania Sandrelli (Noemi), Rachel Weisz (Miranda Fox), Carlo Cecchi (Carlo Lisca), Ignazio Oliva (Niccolo); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jeremy Thomas; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 1996-Italy/UK/France)
“Somewhat erotic and warm, and pleasant to gaze at.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Shallow might be the key word to describe Bertolucci’s look at the arty bourgeoisie. Stealing Beauty is a gentle romantic drama/coming-of-age tale that provides comfortable rest stops along the way for the travel weary viewer. Expatriates, aesthetes, dilettantes, and Romeos form a motley group living in an artists’ colony in a Tuscan villa that has a beautiful hilltop view of Siena. They enjoy the good-life in these lush surroundings, as the gorgeous natural setting seems more like the film’s stars than the actors.

Lucy (Tyler) is a 19-year-old American virgin who is bereaved at the recent suicide death of her international model and poetess mother, and comes to visit Tuscany for the summer to rekindle those good memories she had there on previous visits. The ponderous plot revolves around which of the lads will get into Lucy’s pants first and who was her real father. There’s something puzzling she found in mom’s diary, as there’s a hint that the man she considered her father is not but that her biological father is someone living in the villa where mom spent her summers. This story about not being aware of her real father parallels Liv Tyler’s real life situation. She’s the daughter of a famed rock and roll star, but was raised believing that her father was someone else.

Jeremy Irons plays Alex, a dying playwright who is cheered by Lucy’s beauty, youth, virginity, and energy. He is one of the three men she suspects might be her real dad. The other suspects are the sculptor Ian Grayson (Donal McCann) and an ex-military man named Carlo Lisca (Carlo Cecchi). The film’s most moving scene is when Lucy does meet her real father.

Lucy also is fondly filled with memories of her first kiss taking place here some four years earlier to a handsome playboy lad named Niccolo Donati (Ignazio Oliva). She’s now desperately hoping to lose her virginity, as there are many candidates sniffing around.

Meanwhile, her energetic and innocent presence in this jaded community, which is isolated from the real world, brings new life to the old farts.

No matter how it tries, this stunningly shot film hardly ever gets beyond the physical layers of its beauty. The result is, that it plays more like a voyeuristic film that a dirty old man made than one of a great filmmaker. Though there’s not much happening it is somewhat erotic and warm, and pleasant to gaze at.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”