Under the Tuscan Sun


Being a creature of habit and tradition, I like to watch this movie in early February, bringing in Valentine’s Day in the best way I know how…with happy sighs and chocolate hearts. I guess this isn’t a romance movie per se, at least, it doesn’t have a traditional love story. Rather, Under the Tuscan Sun is about a woman, Frances, who divorces her husband after he...

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

Rated PG-13

Directed by Audrey Wells          Touchstone Pictures

Starring Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsey Duncan, Raoul Bova

A recently divorced author on a tour of Tuscany makes a spur of the moment decision to buy an Italian villa. Over the course of a year we see her restore the villa, with her own life being rebuilt along with it.

Opening Thoughts

Being a creature of habit and tradition, I like to watch this movie in early February, bringing in Valentine’s Day in the best way I know how…with happy sighs and chocolate hearts. I guess this isn’t a romance movie per se, at least, it doesn’t have a traditional love story. Rather, Under the Tuscan Sun is about a woman, Frances, who divorces her husband after he cheats on her and while on a trip through Tuscany, decides to purchase a crumbling Italian villa and renovate it. Over the course of fixing it up, she gradually begins living again, a new life…under the Tuscan sun. It’s at times very funny, heart rending, and inspirational. And DANG, Tuscany is gorgeous!

SPOILERS For Under the Tuscan Sun here!

Frances is an author living in San Francisco who discovers that her husband has been cheating on her. Shattered, Frances moves out into an apartment building filled with other divorcees, which her friend Patti refers to as “Camp Divorce”. Desperate to keep Frances from succumbing to depression, Patti and her girlfriend give Frances their tickets for a gay tour of Tuscany, which they assure Frances will be perfect for her, as she will have no chance of getting involved with anyone romantically on the tour.

While on the tour, Frances sees an old villa for sale, and on impulse, puts in an offer for it. The matriarch who owns the house decides to sell it to Frances after a pigeon craps on her head, which, according to Italian folklore, is a very good sign. Frances settles in and hires some Polish immigrants to renovate her house.

Frances is often lonely and sad, and constantly questions whether she made the right choice in purchasing the villa. Her new circle of friends, including her realtor Signore Martini, her actress friend Katherine, and her neighbor Placido surround her and support her with encouragement and help. A romantic fling with a young man named Marcello and a visit from a very pregnant Patti (whose girlfriend has left her) raise Frances’ spirits, but when Marcello breaks it off she is ready to give up on ever finding happiness.

One of her renovators, a teenager named Pawel, falls in love with Placido’s daughter Chiara, but the two are not allowed to marry as Chiara’s father disapproves of Pawel’s Polish ancestry. The couple seek help and support from Frances, and after she speaks to Chiara’s father, he agrees and she hosts their wedding in her newly finished home. Looking about her, Frances realizes that the three things she wished to see in her home (family gathered around the table for meals, couples being married, and babies being born) have all come true. As she contemplates this, she meets a former colleague with whom she experiences mutual attraction with hope for the future.

So What Did God Show Me?

-When Frances is having dinner with Patti and her girlfriend shortly after her divorce is finalized, Patti tells her, “You’re gonna get over this. Someday you will be happy again.” Sometimes when we are in the depths of our grief or our depression, it can feel like it will go on forever, because of where we are at in our grief journey, we’re unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve written before about how one of the biggest lies the enemy tries to make us believe is that we will be depressed and sad forever, we will be in pain forever, that things will never get better. Friends…this is simply not true. If you are currently in the middle of your great sadness, grief, or pain, let me speak truth to you: You will get through this. God has more for you. You may not be able to imagine or believe the truth of it now, but trust me. Things will change. They always do.

-A funny scene to me is when Frances is in the marketplace writing a postcard for Rodney, a guy on the trip. Frances writes a beautifully descriptive postcard to Rodney’s mother for him, but he hands it back in disgust, saying that his mother would never believe it came from him. Rodney obviously thinks Frances’ writing style is too weird and out there, and I love it. God created us each with our own special gifting, our own special way of looking at the world, and that is not always going to match up with others around us. Rodney didn’t “get” Frances. There have been multiple times when people didn’t “get” me either, so many times I’ve lost count. And sometimes that’s really hard, it can make you feel like a total weirdo who is never going to fit in. It took me a long time to learn this, but you have to embrace that inner weirdo. When you do, you will realize how absolutely delighted God is with you, and how much He enjoys you! He created you to please Himself, and while some people might not understand you, He completely does, and so you definitely don’t need to change to please anyone else. Also, God is usually very good about placing you with “your people”. It might take awhile, but you’ll find them. I did. 🙂

-I love the part where the pigeon craps on Frances’ head and the contessa decides to sell her the house, because to her, it’s a sign from God that Frances is the right person to sell to. Apparently this is a real thing, if a bird craps on you it’s a sign of very good fortune. I find this hysterical!! Where else in the world would someone taking a dump on you be considered not just a good thing, but a very good thing?? Usually that’s taken as a high form of insult! For Frances, having the bird crap on her was probably just another sign of life crapping on her: her husband cheats on her, she gets divorced, she has to move out of her house, she’s alone in a tiny little apartment, and now a pigeon dumps a load on her head. Because of course it does. But to the contessa, who has been asking and pleading with God to show her who to sell her beloved ancestral home to, it’s a sign from God that Frances is the person she’s been waiting for. So Frances’ curse really turned out to be a blessing! I’d encourage you to look at your life, especially the places where you’ve been “crapped on”, and instead try and see how God might be legit blessing you through the “craps”.

-I found it interesting that Frances keeps going to the portrait of Mary, the mother of God, for comfort. Frances admits that she doesn’t practice a lot of religion, and that she doesn’t attach any special spiritual significance to the figure of Mary, but rather begins to see her as a mentor figure, “Aunt Mary”, who has wisdom and comfort to share. I personally believe that Mary was just an ordinary woman that God used in an extraordinary way to accomplish His purposes, but I like that Frances was looking for help and comfort outside of her own mortal existence. It shows that we as humans need more than this fallible world and its human occupants can provide. We need God, because we cannot nor were we ever meant to try and navigate life on our own.

-At one point, Frances laments to Martini that she’s bought a house for a life she doesn’t have, that she wants family, children, weddings, in the house. She wants to cook and share meals in the house, but she is afraid that no one will ever be there to share those things with. Martini responds by telling her the story of the crew that built train tracks over the Swiss Alps before a type of train existed that could make the trip. They built the tracks knowing that someday a train would be able to do it, as a show of faith. This is beautiful!! We should all be practicing this sort of faith in our lives! I know a woman who, before she was married or even dating, bought a pair of men’s pants she liked. She didn’t even have a boyfriend at the time, but she liked the pants and wanted to give them as a gift to her future husband. She bought them not knowing his size, shape, or even taste in clothes, but rather believed in faith that someday she would have a husband to fill those pants. And sure enough, she did! Your life may look like it’s at the opposite end of whatever desires you have. Your dreams may be so far out of reach they’re out of sight. But Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” So, what can you do in your life, right now, that’s a step of faith in the direction of your dreams? Ask God to show you, and then take that step. Especially if it makes you feel stupid!

-When Patti’s girlfriend breaks up with her, Patti flees to Tuscany to stay with Frances. In her grief and pain, she sobs to Frances, “How do you do it, Frances? How do you ever breathe again?” In other words, how do you keep on living? I’ve known that kind of pain, the pain where it physically hurts to take a breath. God cares about our pain, and like Frances did for Patti, He understands. Isaiah 53:2 says, “He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” God as a man, Jesus, went through unimaginable pain, grief, and suffering. He understands our pain and is there for us through it. He promises to stay with us and not leave us alone for a second. He will also lead you, patiently, tenderly, through that grief and pain. Frances and Patti both found reasons to keep going: Frances with renovating her house, and Patti, her little daughter. You have reasons too…forbear, and let God reveal them to you.

-When Patti’s daughter Alexandra is born, Frances tells her that in Italian, “to give birth” means, “to give to the light,” and bestows that blessing upon Alexandra by holding her to the light of the sunrise as church bells ring in the dawn. What a beautiful turn of phrase, and so true, because when we are born again through Christ Jesus, aren’t we as well given to His light?

-Frances has a brief fling with a young man named Marcello, and she’s very excited about it, certain that he is “the one” and her long loneliness is finally over. However, circumstances keep them apart for a time, during which Marcello finds another lover. When Frances goes to seek him out and try to restart their romance, she’s heartbroken all over again, and in despair, is ready to give up on love once and for all. Surprisingly, Marcello comforts her, telling her that “Love must come naturally, it can’t be forced. There is someone for you, Francesca.” Frances goes home angry, screaming at her portrait of Mary, “What more can I do??”

I’ve been waiting a long time to find love. I turn 50 years old this year, and I’ve been single my entire life. There were several times I was sure I had found the guy who was meant for me, and I spent a lot of time and effort trying to get him to believe it too, but it never worked. I too, tried to “force” love to happen, and I mean, I tried everything. But I finally came to a point several years ago where I realized I was tired. No, more than that, I was exhausted with trying to make men love me. I was exhausted trying to change myself to catch their eye. And I was so, so, so weary of my efforts continually failing. Then, one day, God made me a promise. He promised that there wouldn’t be any more crushes, no more broken hearts, because the next man I fell in love with would be the one I would marry. That was many years ago now, but I chose then and I choose now to believe that promise, and choosing to believe that has caused me to guard my own heart more carefully than I did in the past.

Earlier in the movie, Katherine had told Frances a story about how she loved ladybugs and was always trying to catch them, but whenever she tried, they would fly away from her. However, when she fell asleep on grass, she’d awaken to find them crawling all over her. I choose to believe that I don’t have to do anything to make love happen for me, that God promised me He’ll do it, so He will. Granted, it’s definitely taking longer than I thought it would. There are days I cry, days when I’m lonely and sad like Frances, even days when I wonder if I heard God right and if my husband will ever come. There are days when I’m tempted to try and “help” God along. But ultimately I go back to the promise He made, because I believe He’s a God who keeps His promises, who loves me more than any mortal man could, and who wants to give me the best fairy tale romance anyone ever heard of.

-Later when Frances is arguing with Placido about Chiara’s desire to wed Pawel, Placido states that love doesn’t last, and rather tactlessly indicates Frances’ own divorce and lack of a love life. Frances responds, “I looked for it, and I didn’t find it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Way to go Frances!! This is the way I feel too. I think I could have every right to be bitter about being single my entire life, and jealous of others’ happy relationships and marriages (especially those younger than me!). I’m not gonna lie, I have been in the past at times. But just because I don’t have a husband in my life right now doesn’t mean I don’t believe love can exist, and I released my bitterness and jealousy (well, for the most part anyway, 😉) when I decided to believe in God’s plan for my love life.

-Frances hosts Pawel and Chiara’s wedding in her newly renovated home, and the place is filled to bursting with people, food, laughter, and joy. At one point, Martini is chatting with Frances and gently points out that she has gotten everything she wished for: people to cook for and share meals with, a wedding, a baby, a family. Frances stops in wonder and realizes he is right. How often are we so caught up in our own feelings that we don’t realize we’ve gotten what we wished for? And sometimes we don’t get what we wish for…we get something better than we ever imagined 🙂 God’s good like that. Again with Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”

And, as Frances is in the midst of discovering her wishes have been granted and resting in the delight and wonder of that, a former colleague of hers, Ed, strolls back into her life, bringing with him the one thing Frances never thought to ask for…the promise of love.

Closing Thoughts

The movie, first and foremost, always makes me feel better about being single. Since I’ve never had a boyfriend or been in a relationship, I’ve never been through a breakup or a crappy divorce like Frances. But I’ve had several occasions when what I’ve felt towards someone has not been reciprocated. And when that’s happened I’ve wanted to rip my heart out of my chest with my bare hands to make the pain stop hurting. I’ve wondered, like Patti, how to keep breathing. In and out, in and out, one breath at a time. One thing I’ve learned in my struggles, is that despite what Shakespeare and all the poets say, broken hearts don’t destroy you. I should know, I’ve had several, some real doozies. They do leave interesting scars that have interesting stories, however, and those scars do heal.

They also remind you of how God’s worked in your life. This may be stretching the scar analogy a bit, but I have a scar on my right knee I got last summer from falling into a boat (yeah, that’s a  story). I had to get stitches on it, but now that it’s healed, my scar is…heart shaped! God’s so funny. It helps remind me that God is in my pain and my healing.

Seeing the transformation in Frances gives me hope. Frances, for most of the movie, is without a significant other. In the beginning she is stuck in “Camp Divorce” with other recent divorcees, many of whom spend their time weeping through Frances’ walls. Frances feels stuck but doesn’t feel like it’s worth it to pull herself out, and doesn’t know what she would do even if she did. Luckily, Patti is able to give her a chance by offering her the trip to Tuscany. It is then that Frances, ever so quietly and slowly, begins to live again. She is taken by the villa, buys it, and renovates it. As the house becomes more alive, so does she. (The film reflects this by adding more color, more flowers, and more food as time goes on. Also symbolizing her journey is a water spigot in the wall that at first stays dry, but then, over the course of the movie, starts dripping, then gushing by the end.) The house, like Frances’ life, is cleared of trash, its cracks and innards repaired, and people welcomed in. Frances begins to build a surrogate family, and learns that life is not just about going from one love to the next, but about loving life and herself. She learns to receive love from those around her, not of a passionate nature necessarily, but the joy of living and the pleasure people get from Frances merely being herself.

The movie really celebrates love as an element, and not as merely romantic love shared with a significant other. As such, I feel it’s a perfect choice for a single person on Valentine’s Day. Watching this movie again recently I was inspired…to do something, many things. Meet new people, learn a new language. Travel. Finish my book. Draw a new picture. Make a change. For me. Life is out there, and it’s big, and beautiful, and ripe for the plucking. There is so much out there to see, and to do, and to be.  Thank God! Thank God. This movie gives hope, and inspiration, and encouragement. There is more…there is more. Whenever I feel alone, or undesired, or foolish…I’ll just remember God’s promises to me that He has every intention of keeping. And Martini’s offer – “Please, signora…if you do not stop being so sad I will be forced to make love to you…and I have never been unfaithful to my wife.” 😂

Every day is a new day, and I can do ANYTHING! And so can you.

Grazie, Frances, for the Valentine 🥰

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