Gelato for the Soul
Ball, Sarah, Newsweek
Byline: Sarah Ball
There is a fantasy, spawned by W. Shakespeare, propagated by H. James, embraced by A. Hepburn and the Twins Olsen, that today goes something like this: a sad modern lady, one intimately familiar with the Lean Cuisine family of products, packs white linen pants, slinky black dresses, and several packs of Kleenex. She boards a plane, fed up with her soul-crushing home life. But upon arrival in glimmering Italia--bravissima! She falls in love with the first man she encounters, and the pair consummate their attraction not just with physical love but with dinners alfresco and molto vino, sipped from these adorable bistro glasses you totally can't find back home. She becomes unmoored from her mores--she might bite into a San Marzano tomato like it's an apple, its juices dribbling down her forearm unchecked, or chop off all her hair. A Vespa--preferably a cream-colored one with caramel leather seats and a tanned, suede-loafer-sporting owner--is likely involved.
Used to be, summers were for travel. Now they're for travel movies--ones that assiduously indulge us right here, in the air conditioning, in a reclinable velour chair, with a 64-ounce beverage. And this summer, we're going to Italy: in May's Letters to Juliet, Amanda Seyfriend is Sophie, a sad fact checker for The New Yorker who flees to Verona. In June's I Am Love, Tilda Swinton is a sad mother who flees to San Remo's rural hills. And in August's Eay Pray Love, Julia Roberts is a sad divorcee who treks, firstly, to Rome. We've been to all these places before, of course. Because if the Italian love story is usually the adulterous kind--Seyfried kisses a boy who's not her boy; Swinton bags a man who's not her man--the folklore of these films is deeply faithful.
To wit: our modern living rooms bear no resemblance to the Edwardian parlors of E. M. Forster's A Room With a View, but the formula of Letters to Juliet--a PG movie for Seventeen readers--is Forster's, nearly untouched. Bookish, betrothed girl sneaks snog with blond English chap under Italian moon. More than a half century stretches between Roman Holiday (1953) and director Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love, and yet the two films share the exact same scene: the ladies (Audrey Hepburn and Swinton) get their hair whacked into gamine Euro-cuts, the symbol of womanhood unshackled. The similarities are understandable, considering their common source. For Forster, or Henry James, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Italian romantic novel was a shunning of the 19th and early 20th century's twin specialties--social repression and smoggy industrialization. Stationed in Liverpool in the 1850s, Hawthorne wrinkled his nose at the "smoky, noisy, dirty, pestilential" landscape to which he was chained, serving out a consular position. …