Film Review: Stealing Beauty (1996)

“Stealing Beauty” Steals My Heart

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Here we go, my first film review. What better way to commence this new project of mine than to write about a movie I loved from start to finish? I’ll challenge myself later with a negative review but, for now, I have to take a moment to gush about this film.

Man, oh man. “Stealing Beauty” hit me like a ton of bricks to the chest. Originally, I was attracted to the film because young 90’s Liv Tyler, more specifically, 1996 Liv Tyler, is its leading lady. I fell in love with her performance in “Empire Records” a few years ago and couldn’t resist the opportunity to marvel at her exquisite beauty once more. There’s a unique subtlety and rawness to her work that I admire. Also, do we all remember her as Arwen in The Lord of the Rings? I rest my case.

When this movie popped up on my Netflix “Recommended For You” feed, I watched it immediately. The synopsis presented the film as a coming-of-age, which I tend to be a sucker for. This one in particular did not disappoint.

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First, I have to take a moment to hand it to my man Bernardo Bertolucci, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors, for accurately conveying the roller-coaster beauty that is transitioning into womanhood. What satisfied me most about this film in particular is that it ties together many key elements of maturing both sexually and emotionally. It doesn’t skip past the baggage that coincides with that process and leaves the viewer feeling more closely tied to the protagonist’s experience as a result.

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The story begins as Liv Tyler’s character, a lost 19-year-old (sounds about right) with a knack for writing beautiful poetry, Lucy, revisits the same Italian villa she had vacationed at four years prior. We first see Lucy from the gritty point of view of a stranger’s handheld video camera, filming her sleeping on the train ride to Italy. She’s drooling whilst listening to her radio and completely oblivious. Moments later, we see Lucy in a cab, writing in and flipping through her mother’s old densely filled journal. Every individual piece of the film’s opening is fastened to create the specific warmth, nostalgia and romanticism that carries through as the heart of the film until it ends.

Lucy’s journey to Italy is one with great intent. She wants to rekindle an old flame and to discover who her birth father is. Her journey is fascinating to watch primarily because the character is so well written. The aura of mystery about her makes her irresistible not only to various characters in the film but also to the viewer. Tyler mesmerizes with depth, vulnerability, and warmth.

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Lucy’s experience in Italy and the story of the film itself seems to play out in real-time. The plot of the film feels like a memory and less like it’s building up to a climax. Bortolucci manages to do this without taking away the pulse and captivity of the film, which is commendable. Though there is a distinct plot, the film focuses more on character development and imagery. All in all, there’s a sensuality about the film, the villa, the characters. Everything about it lures you into Lucy’s world. You want to be there with her. The overall film experience feels like you’re looking through a friend’s journal, as though you’re a fly on the wall.

I don’t want to give away too much more. I’ve kept this review vague because I want you, the reader, to go see it for yourself! I leave you with this: “Stealing Beauty” is honest. It does everything right, from the casting and writing to the achingly beautiful Italian villa backdrop setting that fuels the sensual tone of the film. Even the music is perfect. Needless to say, I highly recommend this film.

I love it.

I really do.

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