Behold the beauty of artful 'Stealing' Review: Romance, innocence and discovery blend brilliantly in poetic Bertolucci film.

June 28, 1996|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

"Stealing Beauty" steals softly into the heart and mind, awakening pleasures and memories and imagination, and all with a gentle humor and eroticism that make it a most accessible work of art.

Liv Tyler's fresh, star-making performance brings together this wonderful film by Bernardo Bertolucci ("The Last Emperor," "Little Buddha"), from a script written in collaboration with novelist Susan Minot. "Natural" is the apt term everyone is using to describe Tyler's performance, which won well-deserved accolades at the Cannes film festival.

She plays 19-year-old Lucy, an American who's come to visit friends of her mother's in Tuscany. A virgin, she carries with her the memories of her first kiss and a desire to find again the Italian boy who stole her heart four years before. She also brings a mystery: Her late mother, a poet, has left behind a verse that convinces Lucy that her real father is associated with this magical household.

When she arrives, the villa is quiet. The sculpture, fruit and flowers are imbued with a sleeping sensuality, and she finds the residents napping all around the grounds. She wakes them up, one by one, just as she awakens them spiritually and physically as they each eventually rediscover the meaning of their own memories and desires.

At the heart of this bohemian household are Ian Grayson (Donal McCann), a crusty artist commissioned to sculpt Lucy, and his wife Diana (Sinead Cusack), both British, who have found a haven in these picturesque hills. Their daughter (Rachel Weisz) is spending time with an amoral American lawyer (Richard Reed); their son (Joseph Fiennes) is a wandering spirit.

Jeremy Irons endearingly plays one of the residents of the house, a playwright who is near death but steals a little of Lucy's beauty -- her vitality and innocence -- as he enjoys one last bloom of health and vicarious romance in his friendship with her.

The orbits of these characters and several others spin into the gravitational pull of this world, where undercurrents of jealousy, devotion and longing create a universe for Lucy to explore. In the olive groves, she looks for love and ponders the meaning of her mother's poem. She also writes poetry -- the words are scribbled across the screen so that we can read them as she composes -- but her poems, on scraps of paper that she rips off the corners of other pages, are borrowed and forgotten as she burns them or throws them to the wind, like wishes. She is living in the present, and so do we, as she discovers herself, her heritage and the beauty of every moment.

Unabashedly romantic, "Stealing Beauty" languorously shows us that beauty -- from the wonderfully photographed landscape in which the artist and his entourage live, which is so like a painting itself, to a party at a grand villa where the slinky music is as delicious as the gardens and torchlight, to the inner beauty of its characters, no matter how they appear.

"Stealing Beauty'

Starring Liv Tyler and Jeremy Irons

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rated R (nudity, sexuality, drug use)

Sun score ****

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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