(English and Italian dialogue)

The summer Tuscan sun has its usual corset-loosening effect on prim Northern European mores in “Woman of the North,” a well-mounted period piece that locates more scenic value than emotional breadth along its familiar bittersweet-romantic path. Dutch helmer Frans Weisz’s English-lingo Dutch-Italian co-production is an attractive, if unmemorable, diversion for upscale auds, with decent prospects for global arthouse play.

A year after her elderly archaeologist husband died, 30-ish blond beauty Emilie (Johanna Ter Steege) travels in 1899 to the site of his last excavation, where former assistant Hugo (Anthony Calf) continues to unearth an ancient temple. He hopes to win the young widow’s hand in marriage, but his restrained wooing strikes the fainting-spell-prone Emilie as considerably less exciting than the attentions of Capt. Aldo (Massimo Ghini), a dashing Italian army doctor just back from service in Africa.

Though she’s already accepted Hugo’s proposal, Capt. Aldo’s passionate virility has the intended effect on conflicted Emilie. Running away from De Santis’ (Alessandro Haber) luxury spa hotel without notice, the two lovers nest in the nearby peasant village. But Hugo’s warnings that her lover is just an “adventurer, a Don Juan” prove all too apt.

Adapted from Louis Couperus’ “On the Road to Joy,” pic lacks the richer emotional arc and subplots of such similar literary adaptations as “A Room With a View” and “Where Angels Fear to Tread.” The uneventful narrative hinges solely on Emilie’s seduction and disillusionment; her voiceover narration limns tumultuous romantic vulnerability, yet neither the script nor Dutch marquee topliner Ter Steege’s rather neurotic turn render Emilie’s journey from sensual awakening to near-madness as engrossing or psychologically deep as one would like.

Ghini is well cast as the ardent suitor, but a brooding manner is all we get to explain Aldo’s eventual lack of constancy. Haber’s subsidiary role as a mayor-concierge with a private agenda is also underdeveloped.

Though not a fully satisfying journey, the pic is certainly a handsome one, with first-rate period trappings and picture-postcard views affording plenty of eye candy. Goert Giltay’s sun-struck, gauzy lensing and Andrea Morricone’s plaintive score conjure the requisite lush atmosphere; helmer Weisz (“A Sunday on the Island of Grand Jette,” “Last Call”) maintains a leisurely pace that’s pleasant but lacks the fervor or insight to compensate for qualities MIA in Ger Thijs and Angelo Pasquini’s screenplay adaptation.

Tech aspects are polished down the line.

A Woman of the North


  • Production: A Hungry Eye Lowland Film production in association with Alia Film. Produced by Enzo Porcelli, Rene Seegers. Directed by Frans Weisz. Screenplay, Ger Thijs, Angelo Pasquini, based on the novel "On the Road to Joy" by Louis Couperus.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Goert Giltay; editors, Michiel Reichwein, Jacopo Quandri; music, Andrea Morricone; art director, Gianni Giovagnoni; costumes, Nana Cecchi; sound, Marcel De Hoogel. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (World Cinema), Sept. 3, 1999. Running time: 86 MIN.
  • With: Emilie van Thuile ..... Johanna Ter Steege Capt. Aldo ..... Massimo Ghini Hugo ..... Anthony Calf Mr. De Santis ..... Alessandro Haber With: Pamela Villoresi, Caroline Harker, Polly Adams.
  • Music By: