Everyone makes love in this villa, in bed or in the olive grove, and even their pleasure is lifeless.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Stealing Beauty" is a freeze frame of the insular world expatriates concoct for themselves when they choose to stay in a foreign land. Touched by something they have seen, they return to steal its beauty for themselves without engaging the culture around them. Freed from the obligations of life at home, they carefully avoid mundane entanglements in their new country. They simply breathe in its beauty.

In this case, the beauty is breathtaking. Bernado Bertolucci uses his camera deliberately, panning slowly so our eyes cannot settle for more than a moment. We are to be attracted not to the specifics of this landscape but to its abstract beauty. It is the view of the outsider, and for a couple of hours it is ours.

After fifteen years of filmmaking in foreign lands, Bertolucci has returned to Italy with a story about a small group of Britons nourishing themselves on Tuscan beauty from a hilltop villa. Ian (Donal McCann) and his wife Diana (Sinead Cusack) play host to an assortment of friends and family who drop in for indeterminate stays.

Ian makes sculptures that stand watch outdoors. Diana is the classic caretaker of sick and well alike. Letting their moods blow past her while she provides their meals and their equilibrium, she runs things gently. Alex (Jeremy Irons) is a writer who is dying with some grace. Whatever else these three may be thinking of, they feel the shadow of mortality and boredom along with nostalgia for their dampened sexuality. So far, so good.

The stage is set for the arrival of Lucy (Liv Tyler), a 19- year-old American, who steps into this atmosphere of decline in search of her real father and of a lover who will rescue her from her lonely virginity. Her presence is supposed to spark revival and fascination in the older folk, but Liv Tyler just isn't up to the job. To carry a movie like this, the actress had better have either physical grace or emotional mystery. Tyler has neither.

Her walk, her voice, her manner--all are pedestrian. It is a jarring sight: the American teenager awakening three wise old British artists. Lacking a magnetic central force, the film sags and takes with it the peripheral players. Everyone makes love in this villa, in bed or in the olive grove, and even their pleasure is lifeless.

The net effect is that the three adults carry the movie, but since Bertolucci has given them little to say or do beyond cooking, painting, and dying, they can't rescue his picture. Jeremy Irons is affecting as he begs to be allowed to indulge himself in the "frivolity of the dying." Donal McCann is enigmatic as Ian. It is left to Sinead Cusack to light the space as Diana, the middle-aged wife worn down by a life of ministering to family and friends.

This villa, set above hills and towns of surpassing beauty, was waiting for an electrifying guest, and sadly, one didn't arrive.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : 20th Century Fox
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h58m

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