UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN – Blu-ray review

Unless you’re a sucker for scenery—and as John J. Puccio pointed out in his DVD review“Under the Tuscan Sun” is gorgeous to watch—you’ll need to be in touch with your feminine side to enjoy this Diane Lane film, because it’s what’s commonly called a “chick flick.”

A woman gets dumped by the husband she was supporting, gets shafted into paying alimony and giving the house to him and his new “missus,” and has two lesbian friends tell her they’re worried she won’t recover. So she accepts a ticket to Italy that they offer —for a gay tour of Italy— thinking at the very least it might unclog her writer’s block.

The story is told from the point of view of Frances (Lane), and we see how she impulsively buys an old Italian villa, how she encounters locals who try to make her feel welcome, and how she finds a family of sorts in the arms of a Polish construction crew who have taken on her project. There are moments when a storm frightens her, moments when she fends off admirers, a time when she’s had enough of celibacy and comes on to a guy, and, of course, a reappearance of best pal Patti (Sandra Oh).

Though it all feels a bit like female fantasy and a little predictable, this film from director Audrey Wells is based on the book Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy, by Frances Mayes. And Mayes really did buy a home in Tuscany and write about her experiences.

Filmed in Tuscany, Rome, and other locations, “Under the Tuscan Sun” is full of terrific scenery and shots of the Italian countryside and villages. It’s the beauty of Italy and Lane’s charismatic performance that make the film a winner. You want to spend time with her in Italy. As a result, 113 minutes never passes so quickly.

In a nod to “La Dolce Vita,” an expatriate dresses like Fellini’s Sylvia with a big hat and an added quirky detail. When we first see her, she’s in the marketplace, rubbing a baby duckling against her face, as if it were the most sensual thing in the world. There are a few memorable details like that which make “Under the Tuscan Sun” stick with you a few days later. It’s not all fluff. In fact, “Under the Tuscan Sun” is, as John says, pleasant fare. It’s hard not to get sucked into the fantasy . . . even if you’re a little light on x chromosomes.

“Under the Tuscan Sun” was meant to look glossy and glorious, and it does. It’s like a series of postcards, with only the barest hint of grain to remind you that you’re watching a film. Some scenes do seem a little dark or soft, but for the most part colors are brightly saturated, black levels are sufficient, and there’s plenty of detail to appreciate. “Under the Tuscan Sun” is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, brought to HD via an AVC/MPEG-4 encode that left no artifacts as I could tell.

The audio is even better. When the thunderstorm hits, the room is filled with directional lightning and thunder. It’s really immersive at that moment, though some of the scenes don’t have the same level of involvement. The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that offers clear dialogue and a well balanced mix of effects and background music. Additional options are French 5.1 Dolby Surround and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.

There are no HD bonus features created for this Blu-ray, only DVD features ported over. Wells offers a commentary that’s fairly average. Frankly, she could have used someone like Lane to bounce things off of.  “Tuscany 101” is a fluffy piece that includes a little behind-the-scenes footage and a lot of praise for the area. At least author Mayes makes an appearance. Finally, there are three deleted scenes. That’s it.

Bottom line:
“Under the Tuscan Sun” is an amiable film that, in the tradition of escapist fiction, provides a nice, scenic getaway with just enough drama to keep the story from getting stagnant. Watch it for the scenery, and for Lane’s warm performance.