Projections - Movie Reviews

Up at the Villa Up at the Villa

Up at the Villa, an admirable period adaptation of Somerset Maugham's 1941 novella seems to call to mind Franco Zeffirelli's Tea With Mussolini in its late 30's setting in Florence as European and American types are gradually affected by the fringes of war in fascist Italy.  Philip Haas' latest interpretation has more heart to it, as the screenplay by his wife Belinda adds the political elements of change, the events surrounding a widowed British socialite, Mary Panton, is less stylish and surprising, than the helper's reworking of his other two features, The Music of Chance and Angles and Insects.  But solid lead performances by Kristin Scott Thomas and especially Sean Penn, who holds his own and then some with a veteran cast more familiar with the genre, give Up at the Villa a nice updating.

Photographed in Florence and Siena with more texture in daylight scenes, Thomas' Mary is not opulent, but with help of friends is set up at a lavish hilltop villa, and she becomes involved with those relaxing, recreating Anglo Americans, not bothered by the possibility of war.  Her courtship by an ambassador, Sir Edgar Swift (James Fox) can lead to a stable financial lifestyle, as he is about to become a Governor in India.  She decides to think about it with Edgar away on business, her love for him not very evident.

Mary's situation begins a transformation at a dinner party hosted by the Princess San Ferdinado, displayed with sardonic charm and devilish behavior by the showy Anne Bancroft.  Prodded to accept Swift's proposal, she later meets Penn's dashing play boyish Rowley Flint, through he's married.  While susceptible to Flint's flirtations, she's also socializing with the upper class Fascist party secretary of Florence, Massimo Ghini's Leopardi, a pivotal character later on who heightens the conflict.

Soon after a spat with the womanizing Flint, Mary's one night stand with a needy Austrian refugee, Karl (a pale looking Jeremy Davies), a vapid violinist tipped by Mary at dinner.  He can't live with Mary's answer on making his intentions known and Rowley is beckoned by Mary to be a part of a scheme with romantic underpinnings.  And the sinister Leopardi's curiosity leads to peril, bonding, and more rejection.

Though Villa lacks Cher, Thomas and Penn have their own poise and quality which make you believe in them through the social rigging and melodrama during Mussolini's rise to power leaving some expatriates living on the edge.

 
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Up at the Villa
 
 
 
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