Luca's transformation from waif to budding artist may be the thrust of the film, but it's the psyche of the conflicted grandson that you wonder about.
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This gets my vote as director Franco Zeffirellis finest film. Certainly, its his most personal.
Tea With Mussolini doesn't come close to John Boorman's captivating "Hope and Glory," which managed to address the terrible destructiveness and misery of the war as well as the magical adventure it offered its young protagonist.
Zeffirelli has created an amusing yet touching high adventure and an unusual coming-of-age tale.
Cher generates much of the movie's limited interest with her powerful screen presence, and Maggie Smith's skill as a diplomat's widow who believes she has a special relationship with Mussolini is undeniable. Yet the story, structured by the fragmented perspectives of too many characters, is more often lightweight than funny.
The film values quips and declamations over natural conversation (or an explanation of how such intelligent women could have been so blind to world events).
Watching Tea with Mussolini is probably a lot like having tea with Mussolini would be: never dull but neither, I imagine, an entirely pleasant experience.
Zeffirelli creates a lovely, perfectly composed and lyrical look at life under Mussolini's black-shirted fascist regime. But despite danger on every corner in Italy, there is a tinge of rose-colored sentiment that blurs the events yet lends to the making of an affecting dramatic period piece.
Cher is an inspired bit of casting, while the talented Dench is underused. Smith seems to be going through the motions as the fatuous and deluded aristocrat, while Tomlin has a ball as Georgie. But what really stays with you is the work by Plowright - she is a beacon of good sense (both as actor and character) and plucky as you please.