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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Letters to Juliet

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Gael Garcia Bernal and Amanda Seyfried star in a scene from the movie "Letters to Juliet."
"Letters to Juliet" (Summit) is a good-humored, old-fashioned, multigenerational romantic comedy—set against the backdrop of a picturesque Italian travelogue—that will have daughters, mothers, and grandmothers pondering the same question: "Does true love have an expiration date?"

Our heroine is Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact-checker for The New Yorker magazine and an aspiring writer who travels to Italy with her fiance, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), a chef who is opening a new restaurant. They land in Verona, the "City of Lovers," where the spirit of Shakespeare's tragedy "Romeo and Juliet"—which takes place there—still looms large.

When food-obsessed Victor sets off in search of the perfect truffle, Sophie is left to explore the town on her own. She visits the house traditionally identified as Juliet Capulet's, complete with the famous balcony, and discovers a kind of Wailing Wall for the amorous, where lovesick women leave letters seeking relationship advice. These missives are answered by the ladies of the "Club di Giulietta," who take Sophie under their wing.

Sophie finds a 50-year-old letter hidden in the wall by an Englishwoman named Claire, and decides to answer it.

Only days later, Claire—all grown up into the luminous Vanessa Redgrave—returns to Verona, determined to find Lorenzo, her one true love of a half-century ago. She bonds with Sophie, much to the chagrin of her skeptical grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan), and the unlikely trio sets off on their mission, determined to succeed despite the dozens of phony Lorenzos who cross their path.

The picture-perfect views of the Italian countryside and of magnificent cities such as Siena are a major bonus of "Letters to Juliet" and fit the ultra-romantic tone of the film.

Will Claire be reunited with her Lorenzo? Will Sophie's fiance find her more interesting than Italian cuisine? Is there a romantic heart beating inside Charlie's cold exterior? Put it this way: "Letters to Juliet" ends a lot more happily than Shakespeare's play, and in a manner worthy of a Harlequin romance novel.

Directed by Gary Winick ("Bride Wars," "Charlotte's Web"), "Letters to Juliet" is one of those rare contemporary Hollywood films that explore—in a respectful and sincere way—time-honored themes of love, family, loss and destiny. Apart from the elements mentioned below, moreover, this is a generally wholesome film that can be enjoyed by most family members.

The film contains an implied premarital relationship and a brief obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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