Click here to read reviewer Leslie Raith's take on The Italian Lover.
Fifty-three-year-old book conservator Margot Harrington is finally going to have
a film made about her life in Florence and her experiences when she first came to Italy after the big flood of 1966. Central to Margo's sojourn
in Florence is her discovery in the convent where she had been working of a unique copy of a book of Renaissance erotic drawings and poems called
The Sixteen Pleasures by Pietro Aretino.
unearthing of this priceless manuscript coincides with Margot's tempestuous love affair with an Italian art conservator, which ends in failure even as her mother ultimately
finds happiness with her own Italian lover. Meanwhile, blessed with an affable personality, the eloquent historian Alan Woody Woodhull plays his guitar at the local Bebop Club while also teaching at the American Academy of Florence.
Woody came to Italy in 1987 for the trial of the terrorists who killed his daughter in a catastrophic train bombing, and after living in Bologna for a couple of years, he decided to make his home in Florence. When Woody meets and falls in love with the lovely Margot,
however, his plans to return to his beloved Illinois at the end of the year are inexorably placed on hold.
After Woody's dramatic street rescue of a dog that is being abused by its owner, the two become lovers, both hoping that the impending movie will be able validate much of Margo's life and her decision to say in Italy
- and also take the edge off her homesickness, especially as Woody is offering to help her write her own version of the screenplay.
At the same time in Los Angeles, the film's producer, Esther Klein, is reeling after having split with her movie director husband of thirty years, Harry Klein. Even though she's spent most of her most of her life hanging out with budding directors and moguls, she feels as though she's been set adrift: "It isn't as if she'd never made a film before, it's just that she's never done it without Harry to direct it."
Luckily Esther's savior arrives in the form of Michael Gardner. Once labeled a "middling" director by the critics, Michael is now dying of cancer and desperate to make a last successful movie even as his loving wife, Beryl, struggles with the pain of his steadily encroaching illness.
When actress Miranda Clark reads in Variety that Esther Klein is going to make a film of Margot Harrington's
The Sixteen Pleasures, she intuitively knows this is the sign she's been waiting for and that she just has to have this part. After ten years in Los Angeles where no one has noticed her, even after appearing in nineteen movies, Miranda knows with
certainty that this is her last chance at fame.
Things don't exactly go according to plan when this diverse group of characters eventually assembles in Florence to recreate Margo's story. Esther plans to use her own screenplay, but Margo is horrified when she realizes the shooting script doesn't look anything like the draft she and Woody have worked on. Of course, she'd known that Esther had tweaked it and had braced herself for the changes, but she
isn't quite prepared for the extent of the damage.
The shooting begins with famed Italian Commedia dell'arte actor Giovanni "Zanni" Cipriona attached as the male lead.
Much to his credit, Zanni ends up bringing out the best in Miranda just as her most honest, truest, and deepest Margot-self begins to emerge. Meanwhile, Beryl, who once thought she was happy with Michael, embarks on a passionate affair that fills her life with joy and love, and her earlier feelings about her husband – her knowledge that he
is "middling" – once again turns into tenderness.
Woody, perhaps the most transcendent of the characters, "stands on the threshold of life"
as he fights tooth and nail to keep the beloved dog, Biscotti. He certainly feels a connection to Italy, and he wants to stay with Margot in Florence, even as he tries to overcome the tragedy that occurred so long ago.
He's haunted by the memory of his daughter, Cookie, and his wife, Hannah, whose mental breakdown caused her to leave for a convent where she now lies dying.
The Italian Lover is a beautiful meditation on love and the enigmatic relationship that exists between art and romance, and how cinema can act as a
looking glass so that the past is laid over the future and the future is laid over the past. Blending the otherworldly beauty of his exotic setting, the author steeps his novel in Italian history, literature and culture;
the story reads almost like a magical travelogue to the beautiful city of Florence.
Reverberating throughout the book is the manuscript of The Sixteen
Pleasures, important because of the way it mirrors and influences the life of the plucky heroine, Margot, who courageously pulls herself up
by her bootstraps, the book articulating her innermost needs, moods and thoughts,
as well as her everlasting longing for her mother and the life that she once lived.