Tea With Mussolini/B,B+

MGM/1999/117m/ANA 1.66

      A small movie with striking production values, Tea with Mussolini makes the most of period detail. Saturated in the radiance of remembrance, the autobiographical tale of movie director Franco Zeffirelli  is set during the rise of Italian Fascism and culminates with the departure of the Germans from Italy toward the end of World War II.

Cher as Elsa remembers Luca. ©MGM

     Tea with Mussolini is driven by characters and setting. the film. The ex-patriot ladies of Florence tolerate the imperious Lady Hester who proudly refers to her late husband the ambassador at every opportunity. She's accepted, through protocol, as the social leader of these ladies. Then there's Arabella and her precious dog and a sensibly cynical outlook on life, and Georgie, the American woman trying hard at looking like a man The big event of the title, the tea with Il Dulce, is rather mundane and brief and almost exists to confirm the title. I would almost have like the film better if there were a mystery about whether the tea ever took place. It would have been a layer of dramatic interest missing..
     Cher gives an excellent flashy performance as Elsa, a wealthy expatriate American living the high life with such intensity that she lights up the life of those around her, despite their jealousies. The performances are beautifully modulated in Tea with Mussolini, from the dour and forthright Joan Plowright playing Mary to the eccentric Judi Dench enjoying every moment of Arabella. Maggie Smith is Lady Hester and Lily Tomlin prances about as Georgie. I like the youngsters who play Zeffirelli at different ages. They are both charming and effective and play well against the ladies.
     The photography is gorgeous, the Florence settings ripe with old world charm, and the music embraces the warm memory of the past. Director Zeffirelli does a nice job of making the pace of the film energetic fit within the confines of the world of Tea with Mussolini.
     The DVD lives up to the lushness of Tea with Mussolini's photography. Color saturation is brilliant with a delicate palette realized with accuracy. Overall, the transfer is quite sharp and the warm lighting preserves the film's nostalgic mood. Music and ambient details are recorded with precision on Dolby Digital 5:1 surround.



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