Toscana takes the core principle of Italian cuisine — do the simple things well — and does a pretty good job of applying it to filmmaking
This review of Toscana is spoiler-free.
Toscana follows Theo (Anders Matthesen) as he ventures from Denmark to Tuscany following the death of his father. With his new restaurant back home struggling to reach the end of development, Theo needs cash — something he could get from the sale of the castle owned by his father in Italy. However, upon his arrival there, Theo is introduced to a culinary culture with a lot more love for the craft than he’s had for a long time, and paired with the company he comes to keep whilst there, the sale of his father’s estate might not be the straightforward business transaction he’d initially had in mind.
Toscana is a film and a half for food lovers. It plays out like one of those food and travel shows, not skimping at all on the detailed shots of the preparation of heritage dishes, and sweeping views of local produce and the environments it came from. You could almost feel the Tuscan evening heat and the sense of coming together to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Quite how I resisted cracking open a Moretti whilst watching this is beyond me.
The beauty of Toscana is it knows where its strengths lie and lets them do the donkey work. It leveraged the food aspect as an additional character, but the magic of having such a universal element to play with means it is relatable to all, as opposed to being a hard-to-grasp metaphor. I think this was something that also allowed the film to defy my expectations entirely, as I had assumed it was going to be a more romantic narrative given Netflix’s description of the plot. Whilst the food did help Theo to find love, it wasn’t love in a traditional sense, but more so in the way of falling in love with life and his life’s purpose again. I liked that it explored the idea that eating a meal, traveling to a place, meeting people, general things in life can, and do, happen in isolation. But, every so often, each of these individual things lines up in such a way that they become a deeper experience; something that you look back on as a memory that opened your eyes to something new. That is what Toscana gets and shows, that there is more to life than what we see on the surface.
As nailed on as it was when it came to utilizing the culinary aspects of its story, Toscana did slip in a couple of areas. Theo was a bit of a stumbling block at the start. He was a real growling bear of a character, to begin with, and I get that this allowed for the redemption arc that he underwent as the film played out, but it did make me a little resistant at the start. That being said, the move to not write the characters around him as shrinking violets helped him not to come across quite so badly as the story progressed.
It’s also worth pointing out that the overall narrative of the film doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. It is a little clichéd and very predictable as far as the final outcome is concerned, but it is a gloriously scenic journey with plenty of good things to take in along the way, more than making up for a relatively inoffensive sin.
On the whole, Toscana is a decent watch. It takes one of the core principles of Italian cuisine — do the simple things well — and does a pretty good job of applying it to filmmaking. No, it’s not the kind of film that will move mountains, but there are a lot more good elements than those that let it down, and if, like me, you’re unable to tear yourself away from a food and travel show when you find one, this will not be time wasted.