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Stealing Beauty

After two less-than-successful movies filmed in distant locals (Little Buddha, The Sheltering Sky), Oscar-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor) returns to his native Italy with Stealing Beauty. Nineteen-year-old Lucy (Liv Tyler), an American girl grieving over the death of her poet mother, is sent to Italy by her father to visit family friends — perhaps with the hope that it will be a healing experience. But Lucy has an agenda of her own — she intends to find the real father alluded to in her mother's diary, and she hopes to lose her virginity to the Italian boy Nico who gave her her first kiss four years earlier. The quaint villa Lucy visits is filled with artists and expatriates, all seemingly waiting for something or someone to shake up their sleepy, complacent lives. Unfortunately for them, Lucy is what shows up. Strikingly beautiful, she has the body of a sultry supermodel but the maturity and intellectual depth of a pre-adolescent — although Lucy strikes lust in the hearts of every heterosexual man she encounters, she doesn't have any savvy, smarts, or ideas to back up her looks. Bertolucci obviously cast Tyler for her attractiveness, and a great deal of screen time is devoted to making love to Lucy with the camera. But each time her vapidness becomes evident, Stealing Beauty flat-lines. Lucy seems destined to become one of those women men can't resist — at least not until the next morning. (Tyler's role in One Night at McCool's could well be the disillusioned Lucy later in life.) Lucy's effect on the little Tuscan art colony is to bring the passions of the men she encounters to the boiling point. For the tortured artist Ian (Donal McCann) and his long-suffering wife Diana (wonderfully played by Sinead Cusack), Lucy's presence rekindles their desire and love for one another, while making them nostalgic for their youth. The annoying American entertainment lawyer Richard (D. W. Moffett) can barely contain himself around Lucy, but when she appears unattainable he redirects his desires towards his jewelry-designer wife (Rachel Weisz). Only the AIDS-infected gay writer Alex (Jeremy Irons), who has come to Italy to die, tries to discover something deeper in the young Lucy, whom he says "reminds me of myself somehow," and it is the scenes with Irons and Tyler that are the most poignant. But alas, there isn't anything deeper to Lucy than her insipid poetry and her longing for something she can't articulate — conversational skills perhaps? There is no denying that Stealing Beauty is a thing of beauty. But beauty without substance is only of fleeting interest. Then again, maybe that's Bertolucci's point. Fox's DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a "making of" featurette, original trailer, and TV spots. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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