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Occidental, CA, USA



Under the Tuscan Sun:
A Cinema Alchemy Review

by Birgit Wolz, Ph.D.

Director: Audrey Wells
Producer: Tom Sternberg, Audrey Wells
Screenwriter: Audrey Wells
Stars: Diane Lane, Raoul Bova, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan, Dan Bucatinsky, Vincent Riotta
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2003

Although Under the Tuscan Sun received mixed reviews from critics, with some calling it typical Hollywood escapism, it also won praise for its fairy tale storyline, gorgeous scenery and sincere characters.

Diane Lane plays Frances Mayes, a San Francisco author and book critic who suffers intense emotional pain in the process of divorcing her husband. First he cheated on her. Then he played the legal system to get a big chunk of Frances' money. Lane's very convincing facial expressions and body language of despair pull the viewer right into Frances' internal emotional experience:  we feel her hesitant anticipation when her newly pregnant lesbian best friend gives Frances a 10-day trip on a gay tour through Tuscany, we sense her joy and confusion around spontaneously buying a 300-year-old house there. We share her fear and dread during a big thunderstorm and the many other challenges she confronts while remodeling her villa. Rebuilding the mansion corresponds symbolically with the process of reassembling the fragmented pieces of Frances' soul.

 As her inner healing progresses, Frances falls in love with an Italian man. She starts expressing a heart warming and extremely uplifting exuberance.  Coming home after having sex for the first time in a long time, she bounces up and down, pumps her fists in the air and shouts, "Yes! Yes! I still got it! I got it! I got it!"

The messages this story conveys are hopeful. Just as with the 1989 Field of Dreams, Under the Tuscan Sun says: "Don't give up," "If you build it they will come," "Relax and let go, when you cannot control an aspect of your life. Things will fall into place on their own." During the last two scenes of the film, Francis receives a surprising reward for having learned these lessons.  Her life becomes complete again.

Who can benefit from this movie?

Anyone who is struggling with a life transition and feels scared of an uncertain future might benefit from watching Under the Tuscan Sun. Because the movie plot shows a courageous woman rebuilding her life after a devastating loss, several of my clients found it to have positive therapeutic effects. I believe it can have a similar effect on many viewers who don’t yet see a “light at the end of the tunnel” in their life situation. The engrossing portrayal of the main character’s emotional roller coaster and the rich use of symbolic images in the film contribute to this effect.

Guidelines for watching:

Before you watch the movie:

• Focus on Frances' strength, courage, and determination to rebuild her life after experiencing much despair.

• Notice the "messages" she receives throughout the movie that help her cope.

Answer these questions (best in writing) after you watch the movie:

• What touched you most?

• What resources inside and outside herself did Frances access to cope with her loss and to rebuild her life?

• How can you apply this to yourself and to your own inner and outer resources?