Directed by:Luca Guadagnino
I Am Love
Some movies are so visually stunning, so gorgeous to look at, that audiences find it hard to respond critically, confusing appearance with content. Did Girl with the Pearl Earring deserve its lavish praise because of its storyline or the fact that every frame was so richly composed? Will Avatar be remembered for the content of its screenplay or the rapturous images which followed one another on the screen?
Professional critics have been all over the map opining on this sumptuous melodrama starring the inestimable Tilda Swinton, (Michael Clayton, Orlando) whose dramatic range is nearly as extraordinary as her ability to physically embody characters which range from androgynous to sultry, to frigidly constrained. At 49, Ms. Swinton is in the process of making her 60th film (nearly 30 of which have been shot in just the last 10 years) and shows no signs of settling for roles which might typecast her.
Some years ago she formed a partnership with Luca Guadagnino, a young Italian director more than a decade younger than his muse. The two have already made a pair of documentaries, (one, entitled The Love Factory; consisted of a single close-up of Ms. Swinton’s face) and they’ve now collaborated on their first feature film, an opulent, incredibly lush love story set amidst the luxurious comings and goings of the Recchi family, wealthy scions of Milan’s elite. Swinton plays Emma, the Russian born wife of the heir to the Recchi family fortune. Surrounded by the opulent furnishings of her magnificent home and looked after by an army of servants, Emma appears perfectly content in hosting elegant dinner parties and awaiting the demise of her self-centered father-in-law. But when the latter decides to split control of the family business empire between Emma’s proper but emotionally distant husband and her warm, affectionate eldest son Flavio, the stage is set for a bitter intra-family dispute. Amidst this struggle in which she takes no apparent interest, Emma falls desperately in love with Antonio, a young chef with whom Flavio intends to partner in opening a new restaurant. But when he learns about his mother’s affair in the midst of an extravagant family dinner party, he quarrels with Emma, precipitating a crisis which causes her to finally choose what she wants from life.
Swinton & the director have stated that they sought to bring the romantic melodramas of the 1950’s by such Hollywood directors Douglas Sirk “up to date” (much as director Todd Haynes did in 2002 with the nearly ethereal Far From Heaven) and it’s worth noting that in less talented hands, this film would surely be dismissed as a mere “chick flick”. But Swinton’s metamorphosis from quietly suppressed matron to impassioned lover is so nuanced - - and her beauty so ethereal - - that she manages to infuse Emma with surprising gravitas. Guadagnino’s contributions are more diffuse; with a meticulous eye for detail, he’s co-ordinates the talents of cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (Swimming Pool, Carlos) Production Designer Francesca Balestia De Motti & Set Decorator Monica Sironi - - all veterans of European film and television - - in delivering a sumptuous feast for the eyes. The camera examines, in breathless, minutely-observed detail, every facet of the family’s impressively sophisticated lifestyle: from designer clothes to elaborate place settings to the preparation and serving of the lavishly prepared meals served in the families stunningly furnished home. Even the warm intimacy of Antonio’s humble country and the tiniest of flora and fauna that populate the meadow where the lovers engage in sundrenched couplings don’t escape the camera’s scrutiny; they become as sensually lush and eroticized as the lovers themselves.
I Am Love comes as close to being a tactile experience as any audience could wish for and its deliberately ambiguous ending will provide ample opportunity for endless arguments about what the movie ultimately intends to say. No matter; this is a film to be savored for its staggeringly gorgeous examination of physical beauty - - in nature, in created things and in the features of its handsome cast. Whether the results have a deeper meaning is nearly beside the point; both Swinton and her cinematic muse (already at work on more joint efforts) have given audiences “a thing of beauty” - - which, as John Keats so wisely pointed out, “is a joy forever”
The Verdict? An extraordinary banquet for the eyes - - and Swinton’s performance takes honors as the best course on the menu .
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