22 June 2007 | przgzr
Building a private corner of heaven
Sometimes it is good not to know much about a movie before watching it, so you won't have any prejudices. And it is sometimes even good to have wrong idea about what you're going to see, because you can be pleasantly surprised.
My House in Umbria sounded as it was happening on the beginning of 20th century, either in castle full of aristocrats (like Age of Innocence) or in deserted house with poor artists having no money to leave (Stealing Beauty; Sirens). Room with a View or Under Tuscan Sun came in mind too.
The train in first few minutes was obviously not a century old one. Characters were more likely to fit in Miss Marple story. And that was just a beginning of surprises.
A warm story about so different people that can successfully create a small community (instant family) is so hard to find. Unusual communities are usually shown as unstable group and intense interpersonal relations build the dynamic of group which develops the plot. (Tillsammans, Black Moon, Hair as an example.) But it is developing harmony that we see in House in Umbria, people who learn to lean on each other and help each other in the same time. Almost like an ideal early Christian community. Though religion isn't a topic of the movie, there are more Christian feelings here than in many religious movies. From loving and helping to forgiving. When one of the main characters appears to be the one guilty for all the tragedies that happened to the group, he isn't shown as a villain but rather a seduced man, a poor victim of circumstances.
The only person who is rather odd and doesn't fit is the only one that enters the movie after first five minutes (when we meet all other characters): another surprise - in an American (HBO!) movie the only person we dislike is the only (adult) American character in the movie (played incredible effectively by Chris Cooper as a superb contrast in cast). The interaction between him and the group is the only real conflict we see, and during that time our feelings towards him change. Finally we learn to accept him the way he is (as we should accept all people, says another message of the movie), because he is just that kind of man. He is not evil, he is just different. And, maybe as the only influence he was able to let himself implement, he makes an unexpected choice at the end, realizing that though this community is strange and odious to him, it's not necessary worthless, and it might be wrong forcing someone to replace this warmth and caring love with his scientifically precise but cold, emotionless world.
Something, however, didn't change from the beginning: Maggie Smith is still so Ms Marpleish that I was expecting at least one small murder which she could solve. And all people living in House in Umbria might have been imagined by Agatha Christie, actors (Barker, Spall, Dazzy, Cooper) ideal for Poirot's suspects and even Giannini as inspector could pass well as inspector Japp.
But at the end I didn't mind lack of murder. It was one of those rare TV movies that can be recommended to anyone who prefers emotions and peace instead of action and violence. It is not a soap opera, it is not cheesy; and don't let my words make you understand it is a religious movie: it is humanity in the first place that House in Umbria promotes.