Strangely reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, Philip Haas's Up at the Villa is a similarly insulated psychosexual drama detached from the larger world yet with consequences well beyond itself. As with Kubrick'... more »s final masterpiece, Up at the Villa is constructed around a self-centered character whose insecurities about marriage set a disastrous chain of events into motion. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Mary Panton, a comely Englishwoman staying at a villa in Florence, Italy, in the late 1930s. Sheltered by the goodwill of the British and American community there, Mary--with little money and few prospects for survival outside marriage--dithers over her uncertain destiny and dreams of independence. Based on a novella by W. Somerset Maugham, Up At the Villa finds Mary forced to take charge of her life after a one-night stand with an Austrian immigrant (Jeremy Davies) leads to tragedy. Sean Penn plays a cavalier American playboy who helps her out in the nightmarish aftermath. Both he and Thomas approach Haas's artful film noir with intentionally mannered performances that blur the line between internal and external experience. The result is a kind of midnight journey through minefields of the subconscious. Still, the film is not without weaknesses: getting a fix on Penn's roughly sketched character, for instance, proves unsatisfying given his clichéd roguishness. And Haas seems to be plucking derivative ideas from everywhere: there's a strange stretch in the second act in which he goes out of his way to make a Hitchcockian film that really does look and sound like a Hitchcock film. While the result is eerie, you have to wonder why Haas would be so blunt about it. --Tom Keogh« less
"We rented this video based on the legend on the cover, and didn't quite realize it would turn out to be the treat that it eventually was. This brilliant adaptation of a Somerset Maugham novella turns out to be one of the best things about 2000's art-film scene, though it has gone largely unnoticed, and even passed the eyes of critics without so much as a murmur.That is sad, because 'Up at the Villa' features Kristin Scott Thomas in her strongest and most well-written role yet. This is an actress who deserved to pick up an Oscar for 'The English Patient', but her performance in this film beats that hollow. It also stands out because its a faithful reproduction of the character in the novella, making this feature one of the more successful book-to-movie transfers.Sean Penn however, falters. In a role that could well be carried out by anyone from Henry Thomas to Harrison Ford, Penn is dull, lifeless and utterly uninteresting. However, his chemistry with Thomas is fodder enough to keep this film on its feet and the fast pace never slows down, even in the slower conversational segments. Set in Florence, Italy, the cinematography is flawless and the acting superb, though the real scene-stealer could well be Anne Bancroft, in a role that she walks through splendidly.The story is simple : Scott Thomas is a penniless well-bred girl at the Villa of her beau, an aging man soon to be the Governor of Bengal (they are all British, by the way). Shes doing it solely for the money and the sense of security, as her last marriage was a total disaster and she 'doesn't believe in love anymore'. It takes Sean Penn, a smooth talking American to make her see that passion is what makes life worth living, and that one must take ones' chances. This lends the film a predictable and thoroughly plain ending (it even read quite plainly in the book, if I remember) but it works.This film made me realize what a treasure we have in Kristin Scott Thomas. She has one of the most expressive faces and such an excellent sense of timing. She also carries herself with the most regal bearing, bringing to mind the days of Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn. No contemporary actress can hold a candle to Thomas - at least not in this film!'Up at the Villa' should be seen for many reasons. One, its not often that an unsung movie of this calibre shows up. Second, the performances of all the female leads are outstanding, and third, the screenplay is the best I have ever witnessed the whole of this year. This is story telling at its' masterful best, and it should not be missed. Compelling, essential viewing."
Fabulous Actors In Good Writing Instead Of Fabulous Writing
carol irvin | United States | 11/15/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am used to having Sean Penn, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Anne Bancroft completely knock me out in their screen roles. However, I'm also well accustomed to not being one of writer Somerset Maugham's fans. His writing bores me to death on the written page. The era of this work should have inspired impassioned writing. It takes place right before the Fascists take over Europe, before the outbreak of WWII, in Florence, Italy. Since it is Maugham's writing though, it always verges on the strained. Nevertheless, the actors give it all they've got and there is a good night's home viewing for you here. Scott-Thomas's character is attracted to security in the form of possibly marrying a real dullard of an older suitor. Actor Fox seems to embody my idea of Maugham himself as that stuffed shirt. Scott-Thomas is also attracted to adventure and danger in the form of a married man, Penn, and a penniless Austrian refugee. Advising her throughout is Bancroft, who married for money, not love, and now enjoys her well-heeled and titled widowhood. Who does Scott-Thomas choose and what are the problems along the way? You'll have to watch it to find out. My only regret is that these actors didn't have five star material at their disposal. The way hubby put it was, "Well, I guess you can't expect 'The English Patient' or 'Dead Man Walking' every time out." Indeed."
Up At The Villa
mjmilne | vancouver, b.c. Canada | 09/03/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"UATV is from a Somerset Maughin novella. It takes place as World War II reaches Italy. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a complex Mary Panton, widowed, in search of romance and a rich husband, who stays at her friend's Florence Villa. Sean Penn plays the catalyst, Rolly Flint, a dashing American playboy out for fun and frolic. But Mary Panton is about to accept a proposal from the older Sir Edgar (played by the worst actor I've seen in years, James, or is it Edward Fox, one of them can act, to quote another reviewer) and she spurns Flint's offer. She has four days to decide to accept the marriage proposal and thus change her life and move to India with Sir Edgar. In the meantime, Flint makes his play for her. But Mary makes a play for a penniless refugee, who is a restaurant Waiter turned terrible violinist. The violinist falls in love with our Mary and kills himself in the process. Why she would jump in the sack with this loser is beyond me and obviously the scriptwriter as well. There's no stisfactory lead-in to action here and the explanation that she wants to do something 'good' is too comical to be believed. But, hey, Penn gets her out of the mess! Anne Bancroft is the light touch with thoughtfully-placed humour. The directing by Philip Haas is amateurish at best and is drastically annoying. A film school dropout could do better! Or perhaps it's the editing and the major continuity mistakes. But--and it's a BIG 'but'--the real pleasure is watching Kristin Scott Thomas in the lead role as Mary Panton. She's almost in every scene. Without her, the picture is a dud, but she raises it up beyond an Oscar Acadamy nod. Her acting is aggressive and carries the accolade of being in the vein of a new artistic style. Her acting/reaction during a possible rape scene is worth the price of admission, as is the scene in the small chapel with lemon trees. See it just for her! I hope the American Academy does give her a nod, a big one!"
Sumptuous but slight
Steven Reynolds | Sydney, Australia | 09/05/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"A sumptuously filmed, delightfully old-fashioned, but ultimately rather insubstantial adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novella of the same name. Mary Panton (Kristin Scott Thomas) must decide: does she play it safe and marry a stuffy Englishman (James Fox) for position and security, or does she follow her heart and take up with a charming but feckless married American playboy (Sean Penn)? A few days of melodrama involving sex, suicide and the menace of Italian fascism help make up her mind. The performances from Scott Thomas and Penn are solid, with Anne Bancroft, Derek Jacobi and Massimo Ghini delighting in minor roles, though Jeremy Davies is less convincing as an Austrian peasant. It's probably worth seeing just for Maurizio Calvesi's cinematography and Paul Brown's production design - the lavish villa and the ripening tomatoes at the tennis club are a treat. But highest honors surely belong to special make-up artist Joan Giacomin who transforms the talented but rather rough-headed Sean Penn into a veritable `40s matinée idol. Penn continues to shine, in roles like this one, with remarkable versatility."
Thomas is great but the rest is substandard
Roland E. Zwick | Valencia, Ca USA | 11/05/2000
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Despite some quality elements, foremost among them a lovely performance by Kristin Scott Thomas, `Up at the Villa' emerges as a fairly dull, ultimately unsatisfying tale of stiff-upper-lipped romance played against a wartime backdrop. In a way the film serves as something of a companion period piece to the recent `Tea With Mussolini' since both films involve wealthy American expatriates living and flourishing in Italy in the days leading up to the Second World War. Thomas stars as Mary, a young British widow who, while she is occupying a Florentine villa, finds herself the object of romantic overtures by an assortment of men including a wealthy but married American man, Rowley Flint (Sean Penn), and a penniless Viennese refuge (Jeremy Davies) with whom she has a one night stand. Shattered by her rejection the next night, the latter commits suicide in front of the distraught woman and it is in the attempt to cover up the incident with the help of Rowley that the film's few moments of genuine drama can be found. One of the problems with the story, based on a Somerset Maugham novella, is that, although Mary comes across as a sympathetic and often even a complex character at times - she is a caring, well-intentioned woman whose pampered existence leaves her unsuited for confronting the harshness of much of the world around her - the men whom she involves herself with emerge as both incredible and shallow. Penn seems particularly miscast in a role that calls for debonair subtlety when all he seems to be able to provide is insipid callowness. Indeed, rarely has a pair of screen lovers conveyed less dynamic chemistry than this one does here. Anne Bancroft provides dramatic intensity in her stereotypical role of the aging grand dame, but unfortunately, she doesn't get the screen time one would have liked seen accorded either her or her character. The film is indeed stunning to look at, filled with views of beautiful Florentine architecture and the lush Italian countryside, but the look of the movie is not enough to distract us from the overall languid pacing, the undramatic exposition, and the lightweight histrionics of Mr. Penn. As a result of such unequal pairing, Kristin Scott Thomas seems almost as if she is occupying this film alone for long stretches of time. Considering the utter richness and beauty of her performance that may not be such a bad thing overall - but `Up at the Villa' provides her with precious little support all the way around. **1/2"