Cher, Maggie Smith, Judi Densch, Joan Plowright, Lily Tomlin and Baird Wallace star in this 1999 Zefferelli film, Tea With Mussolini. Set in Florence starting in 1935, we quickly enter the war. What does it mean to these British and American women, living in a foreign city where human creativity goes back hundred years and human depravity is about to erupt now?
Cher’s character collects modern art, but, we learn, saves humans. Will she be saved too? Densch’s character restores and saves a Lady in an old fresco. Plowright’s character saves a bastard. Tomlin’s character, a feisty archaeologist, saves the distant past and the vulnerable present. Even Smith’s character, self-centered and naively trusting Mussolini, saves someone. Meanwhile, Wallace’s character, Luca, in lessons about Shakespeare and sculpture and jealousy and couriering, learns real art, learns to save not only paintings and plays but people too.
Why? Why, in war-time when saving someone or something can easily get you killed?
Densch’s character says early on that love is why, though it has many guises in Florence, this city of many towers: amour, art, dog-love, compassion for bastards, Jews, even those you hate.