Stealing Beauty 1.0 stars

Essentially just Gidget Goes Artistic, notwithstanding the name and reputation of Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris, Sheltering Sky). To an eclectic soundtrack of rock, blues, jazz, classical, and in a Tuscan setting littered with terra-cotta sculptures, paintings, pastels, a nineteen-year-old American virgin spends summer vacation abroad, ostensibly to have her portrait carved out of a tree trunk by an old family friend. (To set the mood upon arrival: the trusty slow movement of Mozart's clarinet concerto. ) Her true agenda: first, and most pressingly, to renew acquaintance with Nicolo, the boy who gave her her first kiss when she was fifteen, and second, to probe the mystery of whom her late mother, a celebrated poet, slept with when she similarly was summering in Tuscany twenty years earlier. Could one of the old buzzards around the place be her biological father? -- the terminally ill English playwright? the dashing but vaguely "dangerous" neighbor nicknamed the Marquis de Saab? the sculptor himself? The answer to this tickler is hinted at so strongly, or so heavy-handedly, that it would be impossible to say that Bertolucci intended it to be a mystery to anybody besides the heroine. Faint whiffs might be detected of Lolitism and, at least in retrospect, incest, but nothing firm and fleshy enough to put a finger on. And after all's said and done, it turns out to be a blushingly wholesome and happy-ending tale of Saving Yourself for the Right Boy. With Liv Tyler, Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Donal McCann, and Stefania Sandrelli. 1996.

Duncan Shepherd

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