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Thread: I AM LOVE (Luca Guadagnino 2009)

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    I AM LOVE (Luca Guadagnino 2009)

    Luca Guadagnino: I AM LOVE (2009)


    TILDA SWINTON AND ALBA ROHNWACHER IN I AM LOVE

    Sensory delights as a family disintegrates

    Review by Chris Knipp

    In this lush and ambitious new Italian film we meet Emma, a Russian woman (Tilda Swinton), who long ago married into a wealthy Milan industrialist family. When the family's aging patriarch and company head, Edoardo Recchi Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti), retires at a grand birthday luncheon with all the family present, he turns control of the firm over to Emma's husband Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and son Edo (Flavio Parenti). But later Edo seems more interested in starting a restaurant with his friend Antonio, a cook (Edoardo Gabbriellini). Emma's daughter, Betta (Alba Rohrwacher), an artist who lives in London, turns out to be a lesbian. As plans move along toward starting the restaurant, Emma gradually falls in love first with Antonio's cooking, then with him. The factory is sold, and the family disintegrates. Guadagnino has made an impressive film in the grand manner: it has touches of Antonioni and Visconti. But the setting is the turn of the millennium, and of course times have changed. I Am Love's elaborate visual style and intense, operatic music strike a new and distracting, but not unpleasing, note. The film, photographed by Yorick Le Saux, is a visual treat, with some of the most appetizing and tactile scenes of cooking and eating put on film in a long time, and a delicacy of light and color that lingers in the mind. Again Swinton shines at something that might seem impossible, or just a stunt, and the film interweaves its themes of capitalism, food, and family in sometimes intriguing ways.

    From the beginning, the family's vast art deco villa and the loyal servants play key roles. Maria Paiato is strong as the housekeeper, a de facto family member who's the only one some can turn to in times of crisis. The cold elegance of the opening sequence may even evoke Pasolini's Salo. Anyway, the film won't let us stop being gawkers at the rituals of wealth. As Emma, Swinton at first is the perfect hostess, closely involved in the food preparation and attentive to details of the seating, but she is in ice queen mode, perhaps still, after so many years, not at ease in this world.

    That will change. After the grand, stiff luncheon, scenes alternate between various family members. There's a constant undercurrent of sexual politics. Both Edo and Emma respond favorably, even warmly, to Betta's being a lesbian. The physicality of Edo's friendship with Antonio almost crosses over from boyish affection to love. Is this just Italian or a teasing homoerotic subtext to make Antonio's later affair with Emma ironic? Antonio, a stranger at the birthday party (which symbolically occurs with a snow storm outside) who has just beaten Edo in a race and as a peace offering brings a cake he has baked, becomes Edo's best friend, and the restaurant plan is hatched. Antonio cooks a sample meal for Emma and his rosy shrimps, which explode onto the screen in intense, lovely closeups, seduce her utterly. She is the ice queen no more. The way to this lady's heart is through her taste buds. As the cook-lover, Edoardo Gabbriellini seems a little bland and ordinary, but there's nothing wrong in that. He's fresh and young. He doesn't seem much like a cook either, but maybe he isn't one. Who's really seducing whom?

    Emma and Antonio have only to run into each other in San Remo, near where the restaurant is to be, for the romance to begin. The suspenseful, tense first part of this sequence has been compared to Hitchcock. Emma is drawn toward a Russian church, and then sees Antonio and surreptitiously follows him, then dashes out of a bookstore to meet him clutching a book she hasn't paid for. When they make love in the open air the camera treats us to a feast of insects on flowers with Stravinsky-like music throbbing in the background. Here the film is at its most lavish and expressionistic; but this isn't the only place. At times the camera movement and excessive closeups seem pointless, but that is offset by the refined color sense and seamless visual transitions.

    Meanwhile things are happening to the company. The men are agreeing to sell, despite Edo's protests about what he is told is a nonexistent tradition of family responsibility to the workers. "He liked playing at being like them," he's told of his father. The selling-off of the factory is prompted in London by a smooth but repugnant Indian American in suit and turban called Tubelkian (Waris Ahluwalia), who declares to Emma (who, somewhat improbably, understands no English) "Capitalism is democracy."

    This is at another big ceremonial meal at the villa, this time prepared by Antonio. It not only signals the dissolution of the family's tradition as nominally benevolent lords of a factory but also brings tragedy, after Antonio's preparing Edo's favorite fish soup, a Russian dish only his mother knows, reveals to him that his mother and his friend have betrayed him. If the climax leaves one pondering afterward it is because of how deftly the various themes -- the tragic May-December love story; the disintegrating family of Milanese industrial aristocrats; and the appetizing world of slow-food gourmet cooking, the latter, though not taken too seriously as this may sound, could be a way of integrating levels of society. Everybody loves good food. The seemingly anachronistic decision to focus on a grand industrial family, which might appear only one more sign that Italian filmmaking is out of touch, turns out to have been in fact a very wise choice. I Am Love strikes epic notes but also bursts with energy and physicality. After all, so does Homer. Reservations remain about the obtrusiveness of both John Adams' music and, at times, both the images and the editing. But if Guadagnino has spun out much ado about not quite so much as meets the eye, he does a very good job of it nonetheless.

    Io sono l'amore opens in US theaters on a limited basis June 18, 2010. Dialogue mostly in Italian with some Russian and English. It opened at Venice and Toronto, came to the US via Sundance and several other festivals including New Directors/New Films at Lincoln Center and the SFIFF in San Francisco, and was bought by Magnolia for US limited release June 18, 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-24-2017 at 02:40 PM.

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    This was posted on another unrelated thread:



    Chris, this is for you... I have to see this after reading your comments and his...

    http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/...IEWS/100629992


    http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11080

    Last edited by cinemabon; Today at 03:48 PM.

    My comment: it's not just Roger Ebert and I who like I AM LOVE; it has a Metacritic rating of 80. I'll watch the Charlie Rose interview. I see she's back to her androgynous look. I'm still curious to see if her accent in the film sounds Russian to an Italian, or just not obviously English. An Italian I know actually has a Russian sister-in-law, in Italy, who has to speak Russian all the time, like Emma in I AM LOVE, but she hasn't seen the film yet.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-30-2010 at 10:52 PM.

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    [QUOTE=Chris Knipp;24523]There's a constant undercurrent of sexual politics. Both Edo and Emma respond favorably, even warmly, to Betta's being a lesbian. The physicality of Edo's friendship with Antonio almost crosses over from boyish affection to love. Is this just Italian or a teasing homoerotic subtext to make Antonio's later affair with Emma ironic?
    I expected the movie to settle on a triangle involving Mom and son in love with Antonio. Then the tragic accident involving Emma and Edo by the pool would have more dramatic heft. But it's intriguing to have Betta's love for a woman serve as the lighter fluid that ignites Emma sexual passions.

    As the cook-lover, Edoardo Gabbriellini seems a little bland and ordinary, but there's nothing wrong in that. He's fresh and young.
    In a would-be American remake, the character would be played by someone with a more muscular build, as per contemporary American male esthetics.

    Emma and Antonio have only to run into each other in San Remo, near where the restaurant is to be, for the romance to begin. The suspenseful, tense first part of this sequence has been compared to Hitchcock.
    Well, Guadagnino is directly quoting Vertigo in a most obvious manner. As a matter of fact, I love to be reminded of movies I love like Vertigo, and The Leopard, and The Magnificent Ambersons . However, by doing this, a director runs the risk of reminding the viewer how far apart the new film is from the best the art form has to offer.

    When they make love in the open air the camera treats us to a feast of insects on flowers with Stravinsky-like music throbbing in the background. Here the film is at its most lavish and expressionistic; but this isn't the only place. At times the camera movement and excessive closeups seem pointless, but that is offset by the refined color sense and seamless visual transitions.
    The movie is chock full of expressionistic techniques dating all the way back to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and also impressionistic ones utilized most famously by French directors Germaine Dulac (she was the first to use the term "impressionistic" to refer to filmic practices), Marcel L'Herbier, and Louis Delluc in the 1920s. In this case, I identify with your use of the adjective "pointless" to refer to some of these techniques. I personally would go as far as stating that I am Love is more mannerist than stylish. I could not discern a purpose behind the use of these stylistic devices in most cases. I also agree with your comment about the score's obtrusiveness and certain "reservations" about the editing of the film. Having said all that, one feels encouraged by the writer/director's ambitions, even if the execution is poor.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 07-14-2010 at 01:14 AM.

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    A triangle--would that have made it less Visconti and more pure Sirk? But if carrying it all the way would have been too much, just hinting at it and not following through also isn't right. Could this unfinished plot line suggest hints of ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS? Guadagnino, like Rocco, is from the Italian South, from Palermo. The whole movie could be a veiled picture of how an interloper in the aristocratic North has his (her) animal nature brought out, and the structure crumbles.

    So you're saying the whole Hitchcock sequence, church, bookstore, etc., is right out of VERTIGO? I didn't know that, not being the VERTIGO fan some are. That's a bit much. But then so is the whole film.

    I didn't so much feel that Antonio was too flabby for American tastes. He's lean and hard; that's sexy. He's just too bland; the beard only accents his Italian smoothness. An unobtrusive stud muffin. Everybody is thin, Emma, Edo, Antonio, all very thin. You could put them all in Mario Batali's trousers and they'd still hang loose. So you can eat gourmet food and still be chic! That's lucky -- for them.

    I don't know if Guadagnino is gay, but there's something gay in the floridness of the impressionism -- or expressionism: what is it? It's obtrusive camerawork, but you're right: the style is not justified, or quite consistent. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker wrote a generally admiring review (Metacritic calls it a 90) that considers this first of all a triumph for Ms. Swinton ("This is the film toward which Tilda Swinton has been tending") but he "parts company" when the insects scramble on the flowers during the al fresco sex scene:
    the cutaway shots of nodding grasses and greedy bees clambering over flowers to drink the liquid nectar are, by Guadagnino’s standards, a touch obvious, and seeing the bearded Antonio hard at work is like watching D. H. Lawrence auditioning for a remake of "Ryan’s Daughter."
    I am pretty sure the Italian reviewers have been less wholeheartedly enthusiastic than the American ones about I AM LOVE. I skimmed through a bunch of them last week (with the help of an Italian). Any person with good sense (and a good knowledge of Italian, such as Italians tend to have) may see through this film right from the start -- and at the same time, be impressed by its elegance, highlighted by the handling of the magnificent family lunch at the outset and the use of the superb Milanese Deco villa, which at least one Italian reviewer specifically identified. The food, especially the "gamberi," many feel is over-the-top. But it comes apparently from one of the best restaurants in Italy.

    However I agree with you that there is something encouraging about this film, and some Italians have said that, too: that it is commendably ambitious, especially coming out of a contemporary Italian cinema full of competent, even accomplished, but forgettable work. This one you don't forget. It's kind of fun. However the second time I didn't like it quite as much; the whole structure seemed too obvious. But that is a a backhanded virtue: good for debate. It is easy to discuss, and film students might enjoy observing the director manipulating images, sound, and events to get across his points -- and then debate whether it isn't too obvious.

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    Both Visconti and Sirk could tackle triangular relationships with mucho panache.
    Tilda Swinton can do no wrong as far as I am concerned. And it's not because I find her attractive. She is magnificent in I am Love, as usual.

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    That's what most people say; maybe Lane is right that this is the role she has been moving toward all along. However it doesn't save the film from its faults.

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    So does the street-church-bookstore-meeting sequence closely mimic a sequence in VERTIGO? You make a good point:
    Well, Guadagnino is directly quoting Vertigo in a most obvious manner. As a matter of fact, I love to be reminded of movies I love like Vertigo, and The Leopard, and The Magnificent Ambersons . However, by doing this, a director runs the risk of reminding the viewer how far apart the new film is from the best the art form has to offer.

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    "Closely mimics" is precisely right. I think Guadagnino promotes a sisterhood between Emma and the identity-shifting character played by Kim Novak in Vertigo. These are women in the process of transformation; they are remaking themselves. Sometimes I feel Guadagnino underlines the connection between the characters a little too strongly. Guadagnino is quoting directly from the Master by having Emma wear her hair tied in a bun in the back with a curl at the end; the camera tracking behind, directing our gaze to the back of Swinton's head just like in Vertigo.

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    Thanks. As I said before then, that's a bit much. Guadagnanio pushes it too much, flat out.

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