Tag Archives: italy

Beauty in the Movies: Enchanted April

So far this April has been cold and dreary, but with the hope of warmer weather to come I present you with this week’s Movie, Enchanted April.

Based on Elizabeth von Arnim’s novel The Enchanted April, this 1992 film is the story of two English women who, despite being married, are very much alone in their lives. When Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) discovers an ad in the paper for the rental of a wisteria covered castle in Italy, she sees a kindred spirit in Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson) and convinces her to rent out the castle with her for the month of April.

Realizing they can’t afford the rental alone, Rose and Lottie take out their own advertisement in the paper and soon find themselves splitting the vacation spot with the stunning and elegant Lady Caroline Dester (Polly Walker), and the stuffy, aged Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright).

All four women are trying to escape from something, for Lottie and Rose it’s their loveless marriages, for Caroline it’s the groping, fawning men of society, and for Mrs. Fisher it’s a life lived in the shadow of those long since dead. The minute the women arrive at the castle of San Salvatore a change begins to take effect on each of them. There is magic in the April air and it seems even cranky old Mrs. Fisher is not immune to the changes it brings.

Enchanted April is a quiet, slow, utterly gorgeous film. When I say “slow” I don’t mean boring, but languid and serene. The sunlit Italian coast is transformative for the characters, but also for the viewer as the shots linger on beautiful scenery that will make you wish for a sunny escape of your own.

What is so refreshing about the plot of Enchanted April is the lack of drama. So many films are filled with twists and catastrophes, but the surprise in this film is the lack of both. It’s not plot that drives this story but the inner monologues of the characters. We are brought directly into each woman’s thoughts with the exception of Lottie, who is the true voice of the whole story. She has a sense about the future of her friend’s lives and an understanding of the magical effect the castle has on them.

I find Lady Caroline an especially interesting character. She is a woman who has always been judged on her beauty alone, which leaves her incredibly frustrated and bored with the life she is trying to escape. At the same time when she is faced with a man who cannot appreciate her beauty, she finds herself distraught and is left questioning her true self.

I don’t have to mention how incredible the costumes, acting, and art direction in this film are, but I just can’t help myself because they’re all so well done. The costume designer, Sheena Napier received an Oscar nomination for her work, as did Joan Plowright for best actress in a supporting role. The movie was shot in the actual Italian castle where the author wrote the novel, which lends an air of authenticity to the story as well.

If you’re feeling blue, desperate for an escape, or just sick of the cold weather, Enchanted April is an excellent film to lift your spirits. It’s uplifting but not overly saccharine and romantic while still retaining a certain amount of surprise. It may be a simple story but it’s complex in emotion and so astonishingly beautiful that you may find yourself renewed just from watching it.

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Filed under Beauty in the movies

Beauty in the Movies: Romeo and Juliet

Since St. Valentines Day is almost upon us I thought it would be appropriate to feature a romantic movie—and why not go with what is considered maybe the greatest love story of all time—Romeo and Juliet.

I’ll assume everyone knows the story, a family feud, the star-crossed lovers, their unfortunate end, it’s been told many times in many forms, but the power of both the love and tragedy continues to resonate hundreds of years after the play was written. The story of the tragic young lovers existed before Shakespeare wrote it down, but he added supporting characters, amped up the drama and spun the tale using his brilliant language leaving us with a story that will likely live on forever.

While I’m also a fan of 1996 Baz Luhrmann version, nothing compares to Zeffirelli’s beautiful 1968 telling of Shakespeare’s classic. Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting are both passionate and gorgeous, not to mention incredibly convincing.

The thing that sets this film apart from the many other film versions of Romeo and Juliet is that the leads were actually played by actors close to the ages of the doomed characters (Hussey was just 15 and Whiting 17). Teenagers are overly dramatic and emotional especially when they’re in love, and this version captures that teenage sense of self-centered, lustful infatuation. The actors in the 1936 version were absurdly aged 35 and 43 when they filled the roles of the love-sick teenagers. The 1954 version did a bit better with the actor who played Romeo being 26 and Juliet age 20, but Zeffirelli’s choice to cast actors who were nearly the same age as they were written makes their instant and obsessive love vastly more devastating and believable.

This film was the Twilight of its day—the young actors were propelled to stardom and made Shakespeare cool again. In fact the media attention was so intense that Olivia Hussey became burdened with agoraphobia from the sudden fame. Though Hussey and Whiting received a great deal of praise, all the performances are incredible. Milo O’Shea (Friar Laurence), Pat Heywood (The Nurse), Michael York (Tybalt), and John McEnery (Mercutio) round out the cast and do exceptional jobs in their roles.

This film won the Oscar for best costume design and best cinematography, and it’s easy to see why. I’ve been obsessed with the costumes from this movie since I was a kid, they’re so intricate and interesting sometimes they steal the scenes from the actors.

If you haven’t seen this film or you haven’t watched it since high school when your teacher fast-forwarded through the brief nudity, you should definitely watch it again. Everything about it is beautiful, Zeffirelli took a story that had been told thousands of times and rather than modernize it he chose to bring it back to its original setting and make it feel real.

So this Valentines Day if you feel like crying your eyes out (alone or with a partner), looking at beautiful scenery, and re-living one of the greatest love stories of all time, put this film at the top of your list.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

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Filed under Beauty in the movies