Jun 28, 2010

REVIEW: I Am Love (dir. Guadagnino)

I Am Love is much as they are saying — a rich, intriguing, swoony art movie about the Milanese upper-class. It passes most of the tests you'd want to throw at a film about the very rich. There's little hint of snobbery to it (the people who insist on calling it by its Italian name are to be resisted utterly). It doesn't fall into the Merchant Ivory of passing off social refinement for the aesthetic kind. It possesses a scrupulous forensic eye for the effect of wealth — which is to say, power — on family relations. The family at the centre of the film, the Recchis, close ranks against as swiftly and smoothly as elevator doors. When a boyfriend or a girlfriend of one of the children gets the elbow, they simply cease to exist: they become ghosts, invisible on the street. Visually, there's a lot of quotation going on — Visconti, Hitchcock (see above) and some others I'm sure to have missed — but amazingly, it doesn't grate. The camerawork is sinuous and stealthy, moving like one of the Recchi's maids as they tend to the family's business while blending into the background. For large sections of this movie, the direction, editing and score contrive to create an effect of utmost import, of something truly momentous afoot, without you knowing precisely what it is. Or even vaguely. It turns out to be an affair — what else? — between Tilda Swinton and one of her son's friends, a chef, presented in a series of torrid ellipses — Lady Chatterly's Lover as choreographed by Antonioni, with walk on parts for the local flora and fauna. The movie gets a little hard to read at its centre. For all the intensity of the affair, the chef all but disappears from the film's final reel, even from a funeral he would almost certainly have attended. The affair is told less as a story between two lovers, in other words, and more solipsistically, as one woman's attempt to break free from the family into which she married. Why? We are not given much in the way of explanation, although the son seems to suffer from a distinctly Russian case of Stultifying Bourgois Disenchantment. It would have been all too easy to suggest a similar tide of dissatisfaction rising in Tilda Swinton's breast, but her character seems graciousness personified, entirely happy with her role as mother and hostess. The violent rapture of the affair comes out of nowhere — with a chance tasting of the chef's food. A lot of the behaviour in the film is like that: poised somewhere between the abstract geometry of the arthouse, itself an elaboration of behaviour first observed by the great 19th century novelists, and the beating hearts of actual people. Swinton's performance is remarkably free of the anguish one might expect of a woman in her position, hovering in that intersection between the spiritually hungry and the sartorially perfect last occupied by Tippi Hedren. It's not quite the occasion for the full-on critical vapors some think but the film is a fascinating, sumptuous oddity — an arthouse movie that already feels like its own collector's edition box-set. They seem to come around so infrequently, it seems, that this one is leaving nothing to chance: it comes pre-mounted, with gilt edging and a ready-to-hang wall hook, for pride of place above your mantlepiece. B


  1. Did you wait for the scene after the closing credits?
    My friend and I only saw it because we were still in our seats gassing about the film.
    If you did, I'd be interested to know what you thought..

  2. No, I didn't stay that long — what happened?

  3. Actually it really irritated me, as I think it's quite selfish to shortchange the filmgoer, but the credits finished, the lights went up, and then you could dimly see a scene in the cave with the Mother and the Chef huddled together. Maybe a minute and a half long. I can't remember exactly but I'm pretty sure it was in silence. Annoying, because if you miss it there is apparently no resolution to their love story, it's only implied.
    It reminded me of 'Cache' where if you blinked you missed a vital clue in the last scene, which apparently I did!
    Gives Arthouse a bad name......

  4. I kind of found the whole thing annoying, not just the cave scene. Lovely to look at, true, but too deliberately confusing, and most of the plot points defied even the internal logic of the movie, and I didn't buy the Swinton/bearded chef love/passion.

  5. I was pretty transfixed and found the romance credible. I don't think she was a contented wife, but an extremely self contained one in a dead marriage.
    I liked the look of the film, and thought the contrast between the claustrophobic interiors of the family home- all that dark wood- and the bright sunlit, birds tweeting etc. scenes very powerful, you could almost feel Swinton's character beginning to breath again.
    I thought the sons death a bit far fetched, but Swinton's portrayal of a grieving mother extremely moving.

  6. LidiaA has a much more astute take on this film than the reviewer. Tom S.: don't quit your day job.

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