Monday, August 9, 2010

Tea With Mussolini

Franco Zeffirelli, 1999 (7.8*)
A nostalgic comedy with a bizarre twist as a group of ex-patriate, aristocratic British women live in Florence, Italy, in the 30s, and who love all things Italian, especially the Renaissance art, but also Mussolini and the fascists ("they brought law and order").

Maggie Smith, perfect as usual, leads the troupe as the widow, Lady Hestor, of a former British ambassador to Italy. She is actually invited to tea with Il Duce himself in one memorable scene, as Mussolini is pretending to befriend England well before the actual war begins and promises the ladies his protection no matter what happens. Even though this seems a bit farfetched and lighthearted, it's actually based on true events, centered around an Italian orphan named Luca (Baird Wallace when grown up), befriended by the ladies and instructed in the arts, and whose coming-of-age tale this becomes. The real life Luca was actually a technical advisor on this movie.

The cast is terrific, as it also stars Cher as an American entertainer beloved in Italy, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, probably the best of the actors here, and Lily Tomlin, as a tough, masculine archeologist. The cast also has a great dog, a little Jack Russell that is actually the director's dog Nikki. Excellent on detail like costumes, and a bit preposterous enough to be both a unique and a memorable tale, but also a bit lighthearted in light of the setting in history. It's not often that you find a comedy featuring a character like Mussolini.

Quote: "Il Duce has a right to his empire - we live in a time of great dictators"


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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