Here in Toronto, it’s supposed to feel like summer but as I write this, it’s dark, chilly and wet outside. Can you guess where I’d rather be?
I’ve never been to Italy but it ranks highly on my “to-go” list. So when I get a little wanderlust on an evening like this, movies are a great way to be transported to a completely different world.
Without further ado, here are my top five films that bring me a little closer to Italy’s sunny climes.
5. Gladiator (2000)
Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to live in Ancient Roman times but this epic about Russell Crowe’s “general who became a slave, who became a gladiator, who defied an empire” is too good to be excluded from this list.
This movie’s got everything: dramatic battle scenes, gory dismemberment, big cats, political intrigue, a disturbing subplot of romantic interest between the emperor and his sister, Russell Crowe’s growl and an epic score from Hans Zimmer. You’ve probably already seen it, so you’ll know this is one film that never gets old.
4. Love Is All You Need (2012)
I discovered this charming Danish film as a safe bet to watch with my parents over the holidays and, thankfully, it didn’t disappoint, unlike so many movies we’ve abandoned 15 minutes in.
Starring Pierce Brosnan as a bitter widower and Trine Dyrholm as an ebullient cancer survivor, the two are brought together in a gorgeous Italian villa for the nuptials of their children and form a connection despite their differences. The complexities of each character give the film more substance than the average hollow romance, and the picturesque setting doesn’t hurt either.
3. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Ooh, where to begin with this indulgence? Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, this movie grips on tightly and won’t let go until its bitter end. Starring Matt Damon as a… ok. I was going to attempt to explain the plot but it’s far too elaborate so I won’t even try.
What I will say is that this is possibly one of the most stylish movies ever made (in my opinion but no, I don’t work for Vogue, sadly) and really sums up what I imagine Italy must have been like in the 1950’s. Plus, it’s also got Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett & Philip Seymour Hoffman. Need I say more?
2. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Starring Diane Lane as a broken-hearted writer who impulsively buys an Italian villa (as one does), the film follows her as she sets to work restoring the place and, in the process, has her faith in love restored as well.
Full of joie de vivre, the film embodies what I imagine to be the dolce vita: an enthusiasm for life, the exhilaration of taking chances and getting enjoyment from the simplest things, which include but are not limited to: good company, ice cream, wine, and more wine. You really can’t feel bad watching this film, which is why I always return to it when I need a little sunshine.
1. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Whenever I finish watching this movie, I usually sit on my couch and weep for a good hour.* Why? I can’t explain it, although I think Ennio Morricone’s masterful underscore has something to do with it. But it may also be that you fall hard for the characters, then get your heart all wrenched up at the end.
The coming-of-age film follows the lives of two characters, little Toto and Alfredo, the town’s projectionist, who bond over their love of film. There are three periods to the film: first, when Toto is an antagonizing little tot to unfriendly Alfredo; secondly, when Toto is a teen and experiences his first love, while also assisting a newly-blinded Alfredo; and lastly, when Toto is all grown up and returns to his village after many years away.
This isn’t just my favourite movie set in Italy: it’s my favourite movie ever, especially since it’s also a love story about cinema. Can it get any better than that?
*Mild exaggeration. Let’s say more like 10-15 minutes of brooding.
So, there you go! Grab a spritz and settle in for your own Italian adventure. What are your favourite movies set in Italy?