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"Tea With Mussolini"

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Tea With Mussolini is directed by Franco Zeffirelli and based on his memoirs of growing up as a young kid in Florence just before and during World War II. Most of it is taken up with the circle of proper Englishwomen -- played here by, among others, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and Judi Dench -- who care for the boy while otherwise acting haughty or dotty. The film may have its roots in reminiscence, but it doesn't feel like it comes from the heart: Zeffirelli's, as usual, is swathed in tinsel. Still, the villas on display are gorgeous, and watching those dowager martinets intimidate the Fascisti is fine sport. Lily Tomlin puts in an appearance as a lesbian archaeologist. With her long-drawn features, she's looking more and more like Virginia Woolf these days. Cher, playing a former Ziegfeld girl turned Peggy Guggenheim-ish art vulture, is sloe-eyed and sinuous; as an actress, she always manages to be both camp artifact and the genuine article.


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