Tea With Mussolini

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Tea With Mussolini

In light of all the criticisms aimed at Roberto Benigni in the wake of Life Is Beautiful's success, the arrival of Franco Zeffirelli's Tea With Mussolini might actually be a good thing. Whatever flaws Benigni's film might have, it never makes life in Fascist Italy trite the way Zeffirelli does. A semi-autobiographical film, Tea With Mussolini is set in Italy during WWII and the years leading up to it. Charlie Lucas and Baird Wallace play the Zeffirelli character as a child and a teen, respectively, but the movie primarily concerns the tea-and-crumpet-centered adventures of a group of ex-pat English and American women living in Florence, among them Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Cher, and Lily Tomlin. Despite the fact that Smith, an ambassador's widow, receives assurances to the contrary in the film's titular event, the women discover that life under Il Duce grows increasingly inhospitable to culture-loving, floppy-hat-wearing foreigners as the war progresses. While Zeffirelli couldn't have assembled a more capable cast, none of them, except Cher, are given characters colorful enough to make the film worthwhile; almost everyone gets lost amidst the Tuscan scenery. Worse still, the dramatically flaccid film itself boils down to the story of a bunch of overprivileged women slowly coming to the banal realization that Fascism might not be such a good thing, seeing as how it interferes with taking tea amidst the Botticellis and all. The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis, it's not.