A story of the triumph of love deserves a suitable setting, and that's just what Clare Peploe's film version of Pierre Marivaux's 18th-century play gets in the Baroque villas of Lucca, an Italian town near Pisa. Triumph of Love director Peploe and production designer Ben Van Os transformed two of these lavish properties—Villa Mansi and Villa Beale—into a single backdrop for the tale of a Princess (Mira Sorvino) who dons gender-shifting disguises to seduce overly rational philosopher Hermocrates (Ben Kingsley); his scientist sister Leontine (Fiona Shaw); and his ardent young ward Agis (Jay Rodan), who is the rightful heir to the throne.
Shooting in sun-dappled Tuscan gardens may seem like a no-brainer, but much of what appears onscreen—including the gardens themselves—had to be created. Van Os, a Dutch designer best known for his work with Peter Greenaway and on Sally Potter's film of Orlando, says, "The location was empty, so all the plants and flowers had to be put in. And there were a lot of weddings there on Sundays, so every week we had to take down the garden and then recreate it."
Lucca Town Hall was used for two slightly whimsical interior settings, the studies of Hermocrates and Leontine. The 18th-century scientific objects surrounding Leontine were amusing for Van Os to create, especially an electricity machine that the designer built from scratch. Weaving these rooms together with the two villas was a bit of a scientific enterprise of its own. The plot of Triumph of Love relies to a great extent on the Princess' changing identities and elusive movements through the labyrinthine setting. "The plans for the sets and their relation to each other was all laid out beforehand, so we could follow her movement," says the designer.
Costume designer Metka Kosak called on colorful commedia del'arte style in the characters' clothing, and threw in dashes of Asian influence for Hermocrates' costumes. The period is loosely set, says Van Os. "Some of the clothes were more 17th century; Clare wanted it more open." Creating a link of past to present, and also calling attention to the theatricality of the piece, are periodic glimpses of a modern audience watching the action. These play-within-the-film scenes were staged in Villa Reale's 1642 open-air "green theatre," which is shaped entirely by hedges and yews. And just so the movie wouldn't end up feeling too stagy, DP Fabio Cianchetti shot it in Super-16, which results in a heavily textured look when blown up to 35mm release prints.
Triumph of Love was released by Paramount Classics in April.