A tourist visiting a country other than his own is a little like a visitor to the zoo, observing behavior unfamiliar and sometimes seeing it as shocking. There are people who’d watch a couple having a huge fight in their town and roll their eyes and gawk a little, but see the same thing in Rome and write in their travel diary about hot tempered and overly emotional Italians. Maybe it’s an American thing, like everybody thinks it is, to feel just a little more sophisticated than the natives they encounter, but that’s not always true. I see the way foreigners look at us when they visit our country. They write in their travel diaries about the fat bumpkins they’ve seen in America. Don’t lie Italians; you know you do it.
Director James Ivory pokes fun at the English a bit, ones in the early 1900 that visited Italy and viewed the Italians a little like they were baboons in a cage. In the 1985 A Room With a View, it’s almost as if his characters, various guests at a pensione in Florence, believed that they appreciated Italy more than Italians were capable of and only wanted to know the people they met in the shallowest possible way.
In A Room With A View, young Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) is traveling in Italy with an older and very fussy unmarried cousin, Charlotte (Maggie Smith) who is trying very hard to put a stop to any fun Lucy might have on her vacation. She’s old fashioned and rigid, but she’s not rich, and serves as Lucy’s traveling companion/chaperon as a favor to the family and as a means to travel. Lucy is pretty sick of her, and when Charlotte says yet again, “I shall never forgive myself” Lucy tells her, “You always say that Charlotte. And then you do forgive yourself.”
It’s a love story, one in which Lucy is set to marry a boring prig played perfectly by Daniel Day Lewis, who is in reality very hot and yet in this movie quite undesirable. She meets George, played by Julian Sands, who is hot in the movie and in real life, and “Italy changes them”, happy ending.
A Room With A View is the kind of movie that some might think is too esoteric or too high brow but it’s really not. It’s funny, romantic, and extremely pretty to look at. If you are planning a trip to Florence is a “must see” – I can’t think of another movie with better shots of the city.
And it really made me think about what it is to be a tourist. When I’m in Italy I feel very at home because I spend a lot of time there and I’ve learned the language. My goal is to blend in, even if I don’t always do it well. But when I’m in other countries, I really want to try not to play the role of the “ugly American.”