Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Movies To Travel By: "Letters to Juliet" (2010)

A sweet, wistful romantic comedy, "Letters to Juliet" stars Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia”) as Sophie, a fact checker for the New Yorker, on a pre-engagement vacation with her fiancée (Gael Garcia Bernal). She stumbles upon the courtyard of William Shakespeare’s Juliet in Verona and learns of the Secretaries of Juliet who answers the letters pinned to the courtyard walls by visitors who have been forsaken by love.

Sophie finds a letter written 50 years ago by Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and with the blessing of the secretaries answers the letter. Claire, with her grandson (Christopher Egan) in tow, returns to Italy in search of her lost love. With Sophie, the three embark on a journey that is is beautifully photographed through bountiful picture postcard settings in Verona and the Tuscan countryside.

Vanessa Redgrave, Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan
Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan
Amanda Seyfried at the Juliet wall constructed for the film.
(film images: Summit Entertainment)
In his review (three out of four stars), Roger Ebert writes: “I know (the film) is a soppy melodrama, and I don't mind in the least. I know the ending is preordained from the setup. I know the characters are broad and comforting stereotypes. In this case, I simply don't care...All of this is wrapped up in imaginably beautiful shots of the countryside, the warmth of the friendship between Sophie and Claire, and visits to many of the men named Lorenzo Bartolini, which was the name of the boy Claire loved so long ago.”

In the DVD extras, we learn that after Hollywood popularized the legend of Romeo and Juliet (starting with the 1936 version Oscar nominated for best picture directed by George Cukor), an enterprising museum director thought he would help visitors to Verona meet their expectations. He remodeled Juliet’s house which was a rundown tavern. He constructed a balcony out of 14th century sarcophagi and recovered a gothic portal and rose window so that the house would resemble a medieval building.

Amanda Seyfried and Christopher Egan
At around the same time the custodian of Juliet’s tomb planted rose bushes, taught turtle doves to land on tourists shoulders and would accompany tourists on their visit. People would write letters about how they enjoyed their visit and he would answer them as the secretary to Juliet.

Though the secretaries in the film work above the Trattoria Lettere a Giulietta, this restaurant is a fictional place. The secretaries do exist today however. Called The Juliet Club, the volunteers of the association promote the legend of Romeo and Juliet and reply to thousands offering advice and support.

The film is based on the book "Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare's Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love by Lisa Friedman and Ceil Friedman which tells of these letters and the volunteers who have been writing responses for over seven decades.

Spoiler Alert: Ebert points out an irony in the casting of Lorenzo for the film. Played by Franco Nero, he and Redgrave starred in the movie musical “Camelot” in 1967 as Guenevere and Lancelot. From his review: “So you see, when Vanessa marries Franco 40 years after falling in love with him, and they are playing characters who meet after 50 years, and this all has to do with Juliet’s balcony – reader, what am I to do? I am helpless before such forces.”

The DVD / Blu-ray extras include:
- "The Making of Letters to Juliet: In Italia"
- "A Courtyard in Verona"
- Audio Commentary with Director Gary Winick and Amanda Seyfried
- Deleted and Extended Scenes

Throngs of tourist visit Juliet's house and balcony in Verona
(image: Dave-F/flickr)
Juliet statue in Verona. Touch her right breast for good luck
(image: ShakeFrog/flickr)
The real Juliet wall in Verona
(image: ShuBoPhotography/flickr)
"Letters to Juliet" book with tie-in movie cover.


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