Kristin Scott-Thomas and Sean Penn star in this slow, dark drama set in Italy before World War II.
Most of the characters are expatriates, either British or American, living in Florence. As well-to-do English-speakers, they have formed their own clique. Princess San Ferdinando (Anne Bancroft) is their matriarch and the collector of all their gossip.
PG-13 for adult language and some mild violence
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which is also set in pre-war Italy. The protagonists are a well-to-do Jewish family, trying hard to ignore the stories of Jews being singled out for extermination.
Mary (Thomas) gets a proposal for marriage from Sir Edgar (James Fox), who is 25 years her senior. Edgar leaves for the weekend, giving Mary a few days to decide.
Mary’s eventful weekend makes up most of the movie. She is hit on by a Rowley (Penn), a married man. She nearly runs over a poor Austrian refugee (played by Jeremy Davies), then takes him to her bed. There are misunderstandings, threats, a death, and a coverup. This is also the weekend that the Fascist party begins restricting the freedom of foreigners living in Italy.
Mary’s weekend makes Up at the Villa may sound like a dark intriguing tango, but actually the timbre of the movie is more of a flat drone. The body of the movie is ambling and episodic. At times it’s hard to tell what’s an important plot point and what is merely mood, character, or setting.
It’s not until the ending that you can see how intricately woven the plot and dialogue were. What first seemed like unimportant quirks of a details-obsessed director turn out to be key elements of the plot. Yet even this revealing, ironic ending is played with emotionless resignation. What might have been an exciting, crushing climax is instead just another scene.
Up at the Villa lacked passion and relevance. It’s the kind of movie that makes me wonder why someone devoted the energy to get it made.