Abandon ye any desire for sophistication and subtlety.

Letters to Juliet

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            You would be wise to cultivate a certain mood for yourself if you plan to see "Letters To Juliet.." Abandon ye any desire for sophistication and subtlety. This is the movie you choose when you want to be awash in fairy tale thoughts. It is the John Grisham book people read by swimming pools; it is an ice cream cone with sprinkles. But this movie has something even better: Vanessa Redgrave.

            Cliches abound, and in this case, the more the better. You may find yourself thinking, "Don't you dare deprive us of any of the images we see coming from miles down the track." Any attempt to toughen up this movie would have ruined it, so go, smile, and enjoy it without wishing it were something else.

            Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is going on a pre-wedding trip to Italy with Victor, her fiancÚ. Victor (Gail Garcia Bernal) is a passionate chef who has been invited to attend an elite cooking conference, so for him this busman's holiday promises great excitement. Alas, instead of the early honeymoon Sophie had anticipated, she ends up at loose ends in Verona while Victor cooks with the experts. The first telegraphed punch in this movie is the one that says that Sophie's and Victor's relationship is doomed.

            In her idle hours, Sophie stumbles on the legendary brick wall at the house of Shakespeare's Juliet in Verona. It is here that young girls stick lovelorn notes about their loneliness and romantic sadness. Sophie fishes a yellowed old letter from behind a brick from a British teenager fifty years earlier. This would be Claire (Redgrave) who was to run off with her Italian lover on that day but lost her nerve. Moved by the letter and hoping the writer might still be alive, Sophie writes to Claire with the advice, "It's never too late."

            And so, as they say, Claire, now widowed, arrives nearly immediately with her handsome grandson (Christopher Egan) who is so arrogant we know it will be Sophie who pierces his steel shield. Claire, Sophie, and the arrogant, reluctant grandson team up to find the lover from the past. After tracing every Lorenzo Bartolini in the phone book, finally, at the last farm visited, we all find the real Lorenzo (Franco Nero) who sits tall in the saddle on a beautiful horse. He is a widower, of course.

            Vanessa Redgrave, quite suddenly it seems, is an elderly woman of immense dignity laced, in this role, with a streak of romance. Those who remember her past lives as agitator, activist, and serious actor, will enjoy watching her transformation to gentle soul. The fact that she is married in real life to Franco Nero, the film's dashing Lorenzo, adds wonderfully to the nostalgia. And did I mention that the story unfolds against repeated scenes of the hills of Tuscany? As long as you go knowingly to this grand fairy tale, you're likely to find gold.


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