Last week, our series on “TV shows, films, and books to whet your appetite for Italy” highlighted movies set in The Eternal City of Rome. This week, we’re featuring movies set in magical Tuscany.
With its splendid rolling countryside, sprawling fields of sunflowers, ancient stone farmhouses, Medieval hilltop villages, and elegant Renaissance cities, Tuscany possesses a beauty of mythical proportions. It’s no wonder that a vast number of films have been shot in the region, perhaps more than in the country’s epic capital.
There are so many destinations to drool over in Tuscany — from the splendour of the Val d’Orcia to the sophistication of Florence — it’s impossible to say which is the most beautiful, and difficult to narrow down the films shot there to a few favourites.
Our picks for the most delectable films set in Tuscany are primarily based on their visual impact: in other words, the main criteria is that they must make you want to visit Italy! So get your popcorn ready, because if these movies don’t whet your appetite for Italy, nothing will.
To Whet Your Appetite for Italy: Films Set in Tuscany
UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN
Released in 2003 and set in modern times, this film starring Diane Lane is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about movies set in Tuscany. Based on the book by Frances Mayes, it chronicles the writer’s personal odyssey of buying a total fixer-upper of a villa in the enchanting hilltop town of Cortona, fueling a romantic fire in who-knows-how-many foreigners to buy run-down properties in Italy (including the writer of this blog).
While Tuscany is the central backdrop, Rome and Positano (on the Amalfi Coast) also make splashy cameos in the movie, with Italian actor Raoul Bova providing the final dash of eye candy on an already-tantalizing cinematic treat.
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
Set in 1939 during the Holocaust in Fascist Italy, Life is Beautiful is a truly beautiful story about the indomitable nature of the human spirit and how it can overcome the most horrific of circumstances. Shot primarily in the historic center of Arezzo, the movie serves up scrumptious visuals of the typical Tuscan town, countryside, and way of life. (The Opera House scene was shot at Teatro Signorelli in Cortona and the concentration camp scenes in an abandoned chemical plant in Terni.) The architectural aspects of Arezzo are virtually the same as it was when the film was shot and the town has made it easy to visit the filming locations.
Of course, the movie made a world-famous mega-star out of Roberto Benigni, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay. Besides entrancing you with its one-of-a-kind human story, Life is Beautiful is a film that will get your Tuscany travel bug buzzing.
To read more about the filming locations: https://topmovielocations.com/where-was-life-is-beautiful-filmed/
TEA WITH MUSSOLINI
Also set in WWII Italy, just as America enters the conflict, Tea with Mussolini is a lush period piece directed by Franco Zeffirelli with a star-studded cast featuring Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Cher, Judi Dench, and Lily Tomlin.
The film was entirely shot in Florence, with a brief stint in San Gimignano near the end, so you can drink in the distinct handsomeness of both these iconic Tuscan destinations for the whole two hours. Add to that the marvelous period costumes — especially the over-the-top ensembles designed by Ermanno Daelli (of fashion house Ermanno Scervino fame) and worn by Cher, who plays Elsa, the wealthy American that is one of the central figures in the story — and your movie night will be such a feast for the eyes you won’t even need popcorn.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Shakespeare’s comedy was set in 16th Century Sicily (Messina to be precise) but Kenneth Branaugh’s version was filmed in Chianti, so we’re including it in this edition on Tuscany. The backdrop for the movie is Villa Vignamaggio, a luxurious agriturismo and winery in the heart of the Chianti wine region. (If you ever tour the winery, they talk quite extensively and proudly about the filming.)
Even if you’re not crazy about Shakespeare, the movie is worth watching just for the ridiculously gorgeous shots of the countryside as well as the villa and its gardens. The opening scene alone, set in a grove of olive trees on a verdant hillside, is sure to spark daydreams of Tuscany. The subsequent sequence, a giant romp of preparations for the arrival of Don Pedro (played by Denzel Washington), will make you burst out laughing with the pure perfection of its almost-musical-theatre staging and its cinematography of fairy tale proportions.
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