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Light in the Piazza quite charming


slaytonf
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It bears repeating, as I've said this before, but I greatly admire this movie.  Which is remarkable, as it has everything in it common to 50s light romance movies that would normally make it unwatchable.  The look, the production values, the cast, the studio. . . But wait, you say, this movie was made in 1962.  True, but it still has the look and feel of a 50s high-end feature.  I won't question the alchemy that makes this movie glow, just enjoy it.  Certainly, Yvette Mimieux contributes to this in her performance.  She is unaffected and artless.  Of course, maybe it's not hard for her to bring it off, simple-mindedness being in accord with our cultural prescription for pretty women.  Even the male actors come off well, remarkable for three actors who aren't, um, on the A-list, let's say.  This isn't Olivia de Havilland's most challenging role, either.  But paradoxically, it's one that let's us see how nicely a job she does.  Even for a person torn and uncertain, she maintains a composure, and a practiced way of delivering her lines that steadies the film.

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I'm in agreement with you on this film. I like the overall lightness of it. Clara is so innocent and Fabrizio wants nothing more than to be with her; make her happy. The only negative is Noel's stubborn objections to their relationship, which Meg has accepted - she's very understanding and supportive.

 

For me, this is way better than watching Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass.

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Slayton, I completely agree about The Light in the Piazza. And about George Hamilton giving a perfectly respectable performance. (He's good in Home from the Hill, too.)

 

Some of the credit must go to the underlying strength of Elizabeth Spencer's novella, which has also been turned into a successful opera. Some of the credit has to go to Guy Green, for getting such good work from his cast. His films from this period (e.g., The Angry Silence) are generally pretty good.

 

Some of the credit goes to Olivia, who still knows how to carry a film.

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To me, there are weird reprecussions abounding in the film, though I agree for what it is it's certainly charming. We're supposed to believe that Clara's mental and emotional growth has been permanently stunted at the age of 10, though Mimieux never really makes us believe this, unless 10-year-olds in 1962 were infinitely more precocious than the ones of today (which is certainly possible). She uses lots of big words, follows adult conversations easily and is even learning Italian. Her father grouses about how embarrassing it was when the mother tried to put her in a normal school. Okay, maybe she's a dummy when it comes to algebra and medieval poetry, but she displays throughout the entirety of the movie an intelligence comparable to pretty much any American woman I see on the streets today. Maybe the movie should have worked a little harder to show us there's supposed to be something really off-kilter about her.

 

On accident, I sort of conducted an experiment with this film, staying last night at my parents' house, and they walked in on it in the middle. I didn't tell them any of the back story. I just kept my mouth shut while they watched about 30 minutes in the middle of the film. Here are two things I noticed: 1) They never had any clue that Clara was supposed to be mentally incapacitated; and  2)They thought she was a teenager! I think part of that is due to Mimieux's ridiculously doe-eyed stare and ridiculously youthful dewy soft skin. I know she's not supposed to act 26 in the movie, but she in no way looks it, either (she was 20 when the film was released, possibly 19 when it was being filmed). My folks automatically assumed the character was about 16 or 17, because that's exactly how she acting, even when she was having near hysterical spells. Exactly like a 16 or 17 year old at least by 2016 standards, certainly not 10! My folks thought it was just a perfectly normal 16-year-old having a petulant fit because her parents were defying her wishes.

 

Meg thinks Clara will be right marrying into a situation of luxury where maids and nannies will do all the work and she just has to have lunch with her friends and be devoted to her husband. And based on the intellect and emotional maturity Clara displays in the film, I think she's right. 

 

However ...

 

A few questions to my fellow posters. Is it fair for Meg to send Clara into this marriage without ever really telling this wealthy family their son is marrying a woman with the brain of a 10-year-old? Is it fair to Clara? What is the wedding night going to be like? She clearly knows how to kiss, but beyond that is it going to be like Loretta Lynn's wedding night in Coal Miner's Daughter? Has Meg even talked to her about that stuff? And I wonder what life is going to be like for Meg when she goes home without her daughter and tells her husband what she's done.

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A few questions to my fellow posters. Is it fair for Meg to send Clara into this marriage without ever really telling this wealthy family their son is marrying a woman with the brain of a 10-year-old? Is it fair to Clara? What is the wedding night going to be like?

 

Funny but my wife who is Italian caught the film at about the same spot as your parents.    She didn't get that Clara was challenged until she saw the scene where she tries to give the dog a cup of tea;  that is when she asked me 'is something 'off' with her?'.   That scene was a little too overt but it appears the Italians in the room didn't catch on.     You have very valid points but this type of role is difficult for a screenwriter, director and actor to 'pull off',  so in that sense I felt they did about as well as one can expect.

 

As for would this marriage work? Well my wife believes there is a sexist Italian vibe working here as it relates to an Italian wife during that era.   All that is required is that a wife can care for and raise children especially if she has hired help (which Meg indicates she would have since this was an upper class Italian family).    My wife pointed out the Italian mother's persona in this film.   She knew her place and was a good wife,  as in fulfilling her role.   Clara would be similar to her mother-in-law.   So in this setting and with Clara's limitation she will be happy and have a good life but it does raise the question of 'is that fair to her?'.  

 

(PS:  these are the primary reasons why my wife moved to the USA and didn't marry the Italian man she was engaged to and that type of lifestyle and this was in the 90s!).

 

 

As for the wedding night;  well a lot of women who are virgins are inexperience and fairly clueless in this area.   Maybe Meg did talk to her (she should have read a different book to her that 'last time', ha ha),  but the screenwriter and director felt going into this subject wasn't necessary (I think it would have gum up the ending).  

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You make a lot of good points, sewhite200.  Maybe this movie is too light to bear close scrutiny.  I just watch it once in a while because it achieves in a small way what all movies try for, creating screen magic.  I let it cast its little spell, but don't ask for more.

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