Tuesday, 7 September 2010

I AM LOVE reviewed

I Am Love, nearly two hours of pure cinematic bliss, a film that manages to be both visually voluptuous in a manner that only the Italians can do, and measured in its intelligence, a real treat to the senses and to the mind, shot with masterly camera work and with a magnificent musical score by John Adams. I came out of my viewing session with an intense desire for good food (Iam afradi that you will have to see this film to fully understand this last sentence). The portrayal of each of the characters is powerful. Watching Tilda Swinton act is a stunning experience of artistry that only a handful of actors can achieve in its range, depth and breadth.

I Am Love is certainly one of the best films I have seen so far this year, a work that manages to nod at the cinema of Luchino Visconti (the digitally re-mastered copy of Il GatopardoThe Leopard – has recently been released in the UK), as its director, Luca Guadagnino, acknowledges in the excellent interview contained in the extra features of the disc, and to be truly original.

The film follows the slow but inexorable destruction of the Recchis, an old Milanese family whose fortune is based in the production of textiles, a part of the haute bourgeoisie, a relic of the 19th century entrepreneurial era of construction of industry, trhough the liberation of Emma, a Russian woman (Tilda Swinton), who is married to Tancredi, the heir to the fortune of the Recchis. The sensuality of food, specifically oucha, a soup that Emma learnt as a little girl from her grandmother back in Russia, plays a central part in the development of the story. It is, in fact, another character, onto which Emma relies every time she feels homesick.

The film is a rich tapestry weaving seamlessly the stories of Emma and the individuals who are part of the family into a magnificent cinematic tableau, layer upon layer of meaning being built by an exquisite attention to detail, essential for the comprehension of the film (even during a one second blink some essential detail may be lost).

One of the factors that distances I Am Love to the films of Visconti is the fact that the story is centred around a female character, Emma, the Russian who was acquired as a young woman by Tancredi and brought back to Milan as a living addition to his growing art collection, “a woman who is more beautiful than you”, as he said to his mother, and not as “a woman whom I love”, as the final scene makes painfully clear. Once in Milan, that northern Italian city that I could describe as being quietly exuberant (why do I put hs where there isn’t one?), a city where the shops were plentiful, she is expected to behave appropriately as the mistress of the household of one of the Recchis, a world of codified manners, behaviours, attitudes. The film portrays this world beautifully, with a slight tint of nostalgia, a world where everyone follows a distinct and predefined path, a world that starts to crumble when Edoardo, the grandson of the founder of the dynasty, fails for the first time in the history and tradition of the family to win a race, loosing it to a chef (who becomes a central character in the story), a world where Betta, Edoardo’s sister, presents her grandfather for his birthday a framed photograph rather than the painting – proper art - he was expecting, a world where the undercurrents of desire start to break through the masks and the etiquette, demonstrated when Betta breaks with Gregorio, whom she was expected to marry, to conduct a love affair with her female tutor in London. It is a world where the younger generation is slowly drifting apart from the expected behaviours, from the expected career paths they are supposed to take. When Emma realizes this, her liberation begins, the sensuality of food been its catalyst.

Emma, which is not her real name, as she does not remember her real name any longer, finds strong and sensual love outside the claustrophobic confines of the family and their social milieu, and begins through this love a process of rediscovery of her own self, of her own identity, erased behind those prescriptive roles and behaviours she had to take as one of the Recchis – a family to which she felt as an outside, a feeling she kept to herself. She existed not as a woman, as we learn by the end of I Am Love, but as an empty vessel collected by Tancredi, onto which behaviours and codes were fed for her to perform her duties and to be shown as another addition to the art collection – there is here a nod from me to Tilda Swinton’s description of the character in her interview in the very instructive Extra Features of the disc. Through this love affair not only she becomes a woman in her fullness, but also, like a mirror, we watch the slow vanishing of a social class, anachronistic in the global dimensions that capitalism has taken in the 21st century. Yet, here, there is a further nod to the Visconti of The Leopard and, particularly, to Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s description of the need for everything to change for everything to remain the same.

However, as the curtain closes on the final act, shot like an mise en scene of a Greek tclassic ragedy, another curtain is raised half way up as Eva’s hand touches her baby through her belly as she calls in succession .to the family members, only Betta responding with compassion, adding to the sense of her exclusion in the hospital Is there darker implications to this hand, to the fortunes of this family?

I have to pay special mention to the cinematography of this film, particularly to the intelligent camera work which is able to capture both the voluptuousness and sensuality of this world, and that of Milan, and simultaneously to convey the uneasiness that underlines it. Absolutely brilliant!

 I Am Love, a truly glorious, intelligent and mesmerizing cinematic jewel, with the feeling of a contemporary opera, that puts to shame many recent British productions. Judging by this film, Italian cinema is indeed in robust health.

Writer-Director: Luca Guadagnino
Producer-Star: Tilda Swinton
Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Diane Fleri, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti, Marisa Berenson, Pippo Delbono, Tilda Swinton
Italy 2009 120 mins Cert 15

DVD UK Release date: 6th September 2010

  • Audio Commentary by Writer-Director Luca Guadagnino and Producer-Star Tilda Swinton
  • Interviews with Cast & Crew: Exploring the film’s inception, development, funding and casting
  • Moments on Set: Detailing the trials, tribulations and tender moments of the production process
  • Official UK Theatrical Trailer

Stills and trailer © Metrodome Distribution

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