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Buzz Surrounds Diane Lane's Performance in <i>Under the Tuscan Sun</i> - 2003-10-04

Diane Lane earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal, last year, of an adulteress in Unfaithful. This year there's awards "buzz" around her performance as an American divorcee who makes a new life for herself in Italy. Alan Silverman has a look at the new romantic film Under The Tuscan Sun

Author Frances Mayes wrote an autobiographical account of her experiences after she and her husband bought a dilapidated villa in the lush Italian countryside. The film version of the best-selling book changes things a bit (they always do). Frances in the movie is a writer who, after a bitter divorce from her unfaithful husband, gets a gift of a travel tour package from her best friends.

In Italy Frances finds, n-o-t somebody, but something: a dilapidated villa which she impulsively decides to buy, although she's really n-o-t sure why.

"I wanted to see the movie and that's a good sign: to be in a movie that you want to see," says Lane, who stars as Frances. The actress has been through divorce herself and she says it was easy to identify with what the film character is going through.

"I felt that historically I had experienced all of the fear and awkwardness and self-pity over feeling stupid all those things that are hopefully funny in hindsight. When you're going through them it can make you terribly insecure. I had enough of that in my past to have the emotional life of this character down," she says.

As happens in countless other movies that put Americans in Italy, Frances does eventually open her heart after a chance encounter with handsome Marcello, played by Italian screen star Raoul Bova.

"I like this role because he is n-o-t a classic Italian guy a stereotype playboy; he is sincere," he says. "He is a good guy. He really loves her because he was really looking for a love. I love this kind of beautiful, intense love story with destiny. They probably met each other in the wrong moment. Destiny sometimes is stronger than love."

With its heartbreak and romance and, of course, a woman as the central character, it is easy to label Under The Tuscan Sun a 'chick flick' a film for women. However Sandra Oh, who plays Frances's best friend Patty, claims that would sell the movie short.

"I think women will really enjoy this movie, but 'chick flick' rings in people's ears like 'oh, I'm n-o-t going to get anything out of it. It's just women are going to be crying and we'll have some sort of cathartic thing and some romance in it.' Well, what's so special about this movie is that it is a full-on romantic comedy, but it is a romance that this woman has with her own life," she says. "Although I know that it's being promoted that somehow there is a romance with a hunky Italian guy . . . and there is, but that's n-o-t all there is to it. You think you know what you're seeing because it's a classic romantic comedy, but somewhere in the middle it twists and it's n-o-t about the guy. So it's much more than a 'chick flick.' That kind of limits the vision of the film. "

The film is also written for the screen and directed by a woman: Audrey Wells, who believes it transcends that sort of gender-specific label.

"This movie deals with somebody recovering from heartbreak and I don't consider that to be uniquely female territory," explains Wells. "I have a lot of male friends and all of them have had to answer similar questions for themselves: who am I going to be with? Am I going to have a family? Am I going to get myself out of this terrible hole I've fallen into? Clawing your way back from disaster doesn't just happened to women, so I think that the subject matter of this film, which looks at what happens between that moment when you want to curl up into a ball and die and the moment when you're happy you are alive again: I think that's a story men can be interested in to."

Under The Tuscan Sun also features English-born actor Vincent Riotta and the cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson makes the most of the historic and romantic Italian scenery.