Thursday, May 27, 2010

"I Am Love" (2010)

"I Am Love" is a sensuous melodrama and a tale of sexual awakening, and at its center is the brilliantly talented Tilda Swinton (recently in "Burn After Reading" and "Michael Clayton") in her almost extraterrestrial elegance and grace. Her performance in this lavishly Italian film imaginatively directed by Luca Guadagnino packs an emotional resonance and brings meaning to the film's obsession with the senses. In one intimately shot sex scene, the camera does not gaze upon but rather gently caresses its subjects with close-ups of flesh and beads of sweat along with pollinating bees, blades of grass and flower petals briskly fluttering in the wind. Details are frequently lingered on so closely as to evoke all the senses with the smell, taste and touch of what is shown on screen. This is a film about feeling, and it is bold, an experience you have to let wash over you.

The story about a Russian immigrant (Tilda Swinton) named Emma assimilating into the Milan culture with the wealthy Recchi family is sparse. We watch as Emma gets dressed for a dinner party, an event-turned-ritual that happens not just once, and each time she slinksinto a dress of rich color. She is silent going through the motions of the esteemed family. The family patriarch has just passed down the company to a dual ownership to his son and Emma's husband and his grandson, Edoardo Jr. The grandson, however, has plans of his own to open a restaurant with a chef and friend of his, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini). At the first dinner party Antonio shows up at the front door, and at this seemingly inconsequential moment when we do not even know who this man is, the lives of the Recchi family change forever.

There is a moment when Emma tries one of Antonio's dishes for the first time. In a clever manipulation, everything around her stands still and a spotlight shines down on her. The camera admires every aspect of her fork entering into the juices of the food. Here, food is lust. It is an astonishing moment, one of visual triumph. And so while the writing of the film, penned by multiple screenwriters, is slim, the real meat of the story comes from the delivery of Emma's inner reaction to her own passionate love affair with the chef, Antonio. Swinton, with her porcelain face and serious look, fits the role as if to actually belong in it.

Interlaced with an attention to detail are long shots of a snow-covered Milan or the warm, sun-drenched landscape of Sarmeno adding a wider dimension of elegance. All of this comes together all thanks to magnificent cinematography from Yorick LeSaux. Simply put, the movie is gorgeously remarkable to view. Dialogue fittingly becomes less and less as the plot escalates to its devastating and operatic climax. It becomes more about the emotion created by the extreme style and mood rather than the words that should be said. Aiding this ever-increasing intensity is the curious, pounding, titillating and sometimes downright ominous musical score from John Adams that grips you from the opening scene and refuses to let go.

"I Am Love" is tragic, poetic and alluring, a film that draws from classical drama while taking on modern issues of change. This really is a movie about change; change not only for the Recchi family as an established powerhouse, but more importantly, change for Emma in the face of enforced tradition. Its ending is of ambiguous beauty after Emma's husband brashly tells her, "You don't exist." It has Emma asking herself, "Who am I?" and whether it is of forbidden love or insatiable lust, whatever it is she runs away from or toward, it is stated right there in the title: I am love. The movie, and Swinton’s work, merits multiple viewings, and I already want to see it again.

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