08 August 2016

Movie for the day: Tea with Mussolini

Tea with Mussolini (1999)
In 1935, a group of elderly British women, whom the Italians have named the Scorpioni (the Scorpions, for their sting), have chosen Italy, specifically Florence, as a place to live to blend their proper British sensibilities with their love of Italian art and culture. One of those Scorpioni, Mary Walsh, works as the English secretary for Paolo Innocente, who, in part because of his own wife's adamant refusal, largely neglects his illegitimate adolescent son, Luca, (played by Baird Wallace and Charlie Lucas at different ages) despite Paolo's desire for Luca to grow up to be a proper young Englishman. Luca has lived in an orphanage since his dressmaker mother's death, a concept that Luca does not yet understand. As such, he often runs away looking for his mother. On a mutual agreement between Paolo and Mary, Mary (played by Joan Plowright) becomes Luca's guardian, and will receive help in raising Luca by her fellow Scorpioni and financial help from Paolo as needed. Associated with the Scorpioni is a brash younger nouveau riche Jewish-American woman named Elsa Morgenthal, (played by Cher) who, because of her affection for Luca's mother, to whom she owed money, sets up a trust for Luca's future. Among the Scorpioni, Lady Hester Random (played by Maggie Smith), the widow of the former ambassador to Italy, and Elsa do not get along because of their fundamental outward differences. The life for the Scorpioni changes with the onset of World War Two, more specifically when Italy declares war on Britain and France. Despite all of the Scorpioni taken into custody by the Italians, they are eventually housed in the comforts of a hotel. Lady Hester wrongly believes it is her association with Mussolini (played by Claudio Spadaro) that has gotten them into their comfortable surroundings but, in reality, it was arranged and paid for by Elsa. Luca, who has just returned to Italy after attending school in Austria, helps Elsa with her efforts to assist those persecuted in Italy. Luca, now a teenager, has fallen in love with Elsa. As such, Luca is jealous of Elsa's professional and personal relationship with Italian lawyer Vittorio Fanfanni. Elsa's own situation becomes more precarious with the United States' entrance into the war, the Nazis' increasing persecution of the Jews, and Luca discovering that Fanfanni has ulterior motives in his relationship with Elsa. Through it all, Mary still tries to be the voice of what is right to Luca, who may be tainted by his own immature teenaged thoughts during these difficult times.

A semi-autobiographical tale from the early life of director Franco Zeffirelli of the illegitimate son of an Italian businessman. The boy's mother has died, and he is raised by an Englishwoman in pre-World War Two Fascist Italy. Living in Florence, and presided over by an ambassador's widow, a group of Englishwomen live a sheltered existence which they believe is guaranteed personal protection in a tea reception given by Il Duce. However, as war breaks out, the women are interned. Among this English colony is a wealthy American, who visits among her travels and marriages to wealthy older men. She respects the Scorpioni, as they are known, and secretly arranges for their stay in a hotel. The ambassador's widow finds her vulgar and tries to ignore her but, when the United States enters the war, the American is also taken into custody. Only then does she discover that her Italian lover has tricked her into signing over all her money and modern art collection to him, and is now arranging her execution. This obliges all to join forces. Lily Tomlin also appears, as an American archaeologist working at a dig in the city.

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