Vintage Film Review: Light in the Piazza (1962) – The Story of a Mother’s Love
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I have a shameful confession to make. Although I adore classic films, I’m a bit of a snob about it too. As a general rule, I prefer black and white pre-war (that’s WWII) pictures. I like them even better if they are comedies. Although I do enjoy some movies which don’t meet my criteria, generally these types of films are not my first choice.
So, a movie such as Light in the Piazza, a drama set in Florence in the 1960’s in full color is just the type of film I put off watching. But after finally giving it a chance, I found out just how much personal prejudices can be wrong. And I’ve never been gladder.
LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA SUMMARY
Mother and daughter, Meg and Clara Johnson, are newly arrived in Florence from North Carolina. They are there to see the historical sights. But unbeknownst to Clara, this open-ended vacation is all for her benefit. Because of an accident when she was younger Clara has the mental capabilities of a ten-year-old but the body of a grown woman. She attracts men, but her innocent exuberance towards them leaves her vulnerable. After an incident with the grocery man, her mother whisks her away as a means of escape.
While in Florence, the Johnson women meet a handsome young Italian man by the name of Fabrizio Naccarelli who is instantly smitten with the pretty blonde Clara. The attraction is mutual, but Clara’s naivety concerns Meg who does everything she can to keep the two apart. She becomes even more worried when Fabrizio’s father encourages the relationship.
Able to see that Clara and Fabrizio truly love each other she decides to separate them. Meg drags Clara with her to Rome where she has arranged for her husband to meet them. But after a conversation with her husband and witnessing Clara’s despair, Meg is left with a very important choice to make.
A FILM OF BEAUTY
Light in the Piazza is a beautiful film, both visually and emotionally. It’s the type of movie which engages your senses and emotions equally leaving you feeling full. It is sweet, dramatic, melancholy and romantic. If Light in the Piazza was edible, it would be dark chocolate, a candy which satisfies without leaving you feeling guilty for consuming it. It is a story with depth and heart.
A DAUGHTER’S INNOCENT LOVE
The romance which develops between Fabrizio and Clara is sweetly innocent. It is love at first sight for both of them but it doesn’t stop there. As they spend time together it is clear that they have much in common. It is reminiscent of first love; free, accepting, trustworthy and the feeling of it being the only thing in the world. Because of Clara’s mental youth, her innocence allows her to be generous with her expressions of emotion. Fabrizio is very much her match, displaying his interest with grand gestures and a strangely charming habit of stalking. Though their personalities do not exhibit much complexity, the depth of their commitment to each other is inspiring, especially to their families.
A MOTHER’S STEADFAST HOPE
Though the romance is sweet, for me, Light in the Piazza is really the story of a mother’s love. Initially, Meg comes across as a helicopter parent, albeit a loving one. But as the story unfolds and personal histories are revealed, it is clear that Meg really loves her daughter. She is protective, yes, but still secretly hopes that Clara will be able to experience all the beautiful things life offers.
Her past experiences with Clara leave her cautious, but this caution only extends to men. In all other areas, Meg gives Clara the opportunity to learn. She never chides Clara for being herself even when it is embarrassing or inconvenient. Meg seems like a realist where Clara is concerned but in her heart she is an optimist, holding on to the dreams she has for her only child.
Of course, Light in the Piazza‘s two different love stories are only so moving because of the talent of its’ cast. George Hamilton and Yvette Mimieux are charming as the love-struck young couple. Both were popular young actors in the 1960’s and also appeared together in the young adult drama Where the Boys Are two years earlier. Light in the Piazza is a variation of their teen idol images and one which they manage admirably.
Rozzano Brazzi, who plays Fabrizio’s father and Meg’s friendly supporter, is an Italian actor who also appeared occasionally in American films such as the musical South Pacific and with Katharine Hepburn in Summertime. His understated portrayal of the Naccarelli patriarch is on point. Brazzi rides a fine line between partnering with Meg in supporting the romance between their children while also flirting with her. He keeps it classy even when it could become sordid.
But Light in the Piazza is really Olivia deHavilland’s film. She imbues Meg with depth and warmth. She perfectly portrays a mother’s emotional struggle to both protect her daughter yet allow her the freedom to love. deHavilland also displays the conflict between the fear of past experiences and the hope for a different outcome. Who cannot relate to that?
BEAUTY TO ENVY
As I mentioned, Light in the Piazza is not only emotionally beautiful but is also a feast for the eyes. The movie was filmed on location in Florence and Rome and the camera seems to love these cities. As Meg and Clara sightsee around Florence the viewer is treated to golden views of the city including the Uffizi Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and the Arno River. This is not just your typical cinematic tour of famous sites, but one which wanders the neighborhood streets. It gives a glimpse at the real Florence, the one familiar to its’ residents.
Then, of course, there is the beauty of Olivia de Havilland’s Christian Dior wardrobe. A colorful collection of slim fitting ensembles in pastels and even suits in chocolate brown and royal blue. Though Yvette Mimeux is not similarly outfitted by Dior, her film costumes are also rather chic. Her Clara more often wears earthy tones and plays with patterns and different silhouettes, which still induces fashion envy.
Light in the Piazza proved to be a nice surprise and proof that I should keep an open mind when it comes to entertainment choices. Though the romance is sweet, the real loveliness is the depiction of the mother-daughter relationship.
Where to Watch: Purchase on DVD or rent/buy Light in the Piazza (affiliate link) from Amazon or iTunes. Check TCM’s television listings as it occasionally airs on this channel.
Content Note: Safe for the family and great for mothers and daughters to watch together!
Photo Credits: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Have you seen Light in the Piazza? What is your favorite mother-daughter film?
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”