What are the differences between the Hollywood movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” with Diane Lane (2003), and the book “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes (1996)? They are both set in Cortona, but is the movie reflecting the reality or not?
Frances Mayes’ house: the movie VS the real writer’s house, Bramasole
As I have already explained in this article, there are two houses referring to “Under the Tuscan Sun”. The original villa from Under the Tuscan Sun book, Bramasole, is the home of the writer Frances Mayes and her husband Ed. This is within walking distance from the town center of Cortona, on the backside of the hill. Then there is the villa where the Hollywood movie was set, “Under the Tuscan Sun” with Diane Lane. This is a different house, a private villa approximately 3 km from Cortona. If you want to find the house, read here.
As always, the movie is quite different from the book. Read the book if you want to know the real story of the writer. Frances Mayes came to Tuscany to buy a house with her husband over 20 years ago now. No love affair with any Marcello or Raoul Bova is on the book, sorry! The book is all about the renovation and all the small things about the house. If you love Italy and dream about living in Tuscany, for sure the book will make you want to move to Cortona! And if you have already been here, you can relive the feeling and the beauties of the town. I especially enjoy reading about local characters and people through the writer’s perspective and captivating writing style.
Under the Tuscan Sun fountain VS Piazza Signorelli: is there a fountain in Cortona?
The biggest “Hollywood-style” fake that was made just for the movie is the fountain. There is no fountain in piazza Signorelli in Cortona. The one you see in the movie was just made by the movie production, with a paper mache statue. The purpose was clearly to imitate the “Dolce vita“ scene by Fellini, when Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni bathe in the Trevi fountain in Rome. You don’t know for how many years people came to Cortona and kept asking about the fountain! They still do sometimes… But the only fountain (round-shaped, similar in style) in Cortona is the one at Parterre Gardens. Sorry to disappoint you, but honestly the square is so beautiful on its own, no fountain is needed! And I must say, as a side note, that the Parterre fountain is much better and more original than the mock one of the movie!
The Saturday market in Cortona: 1950s Vs today
The scene of the market, when Diane Lane first arrives in Cortona, is a remarkable one. First of all, because all extras and walk-on actors are really from Cortona. And secondly, because it gives an image of Cortona that is completely out of time! The open-air market is still taking place every Saturday morning, but no live ducks or amphoras are sold. When the movie was filmed in 2003, actors were especially asked to wear their parents’ or grandparents’ clothes, to recreate that old-style image. But that is not the feeling anymore. Visit the market on Saturday if you want to find household items, clothes, fresh vegetables, fruit, local cheese and porchetta.
The Madonnina in Under the Tuscan Sun: tabernacle frames and fresh flowers offered to sacre figures
The scene of the man bringing flowers every morning to the Madonna is a very sweet one of the movie. (By the way, did you know that the man is Mario Monicelli? A silent cameo by one of the most important Italian film directors). Next to Bramasole, the real house, there is actually one tabernacle with a colorful statue. And another one is also next to the villa where the movie was shot. It is actually very common to see these statues and tabernacles around Cortona, along the roads, both in town and in the country. And people, mostly elderly people, still places flowers there. So this time we can say the movie tells the truth (based on the book, so it is the real Frances Mayes’ experience). I think that this tradition is a really nice one. Try to focus on details and see if you spot some of these tabernacles when you visit Cortona!
Under the Tuscan Sun movie and other traditions
Finally, other little things on the movie are worth mentioning as traditions.
For example, picking olives (usually in October and early November) and then eating all together with the family and workers. This is a nice scene of the movie. In the countryside this was very common just until a few years ago. Since olive harvesting can be very long and tough, the tradition is calling friends and neighborhood families to help you picking and then offering a big lunch to thank them. It is the same with grape harvest.
Last but not least, the scene of the flag flyers show. Yes, we do have historical re-enactments but the town shown in the movie for the flag flyers festival is not Cortona! That is Montepulciano. In Cortona we have the Archidado Joust in June, with a beautiful parade and tree-day celebrations in June.
This is great post. Just spent two weeks in Cortona and your descriptions re spot on.