Sunday, September 29, 2013

I Am Love (2009)

Director: Luca Guadagnino                              Writer: Luca Guadagnino
Film Score: John Adams                                 Cinematography: Yorick Le Saux
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini and Alba Rohrwacher

Unlike American films which seem in an awful rush to tell you what they’re about, European films tend to unfold in their own way. They take their time establishing character so that, when something finally happens to them the audience actually cares about what happens. In fact, the first genuine conflict in I Am Love (Lo sono l’amore) doesn’t come until a full hour into it. I came to this film through Alba Rohrwacher after being incredibly impressed with her performance in Come Undone. And in looking for another title of hers I found one with another of my favorite actresses, Tilda Swinton. Writer-director Luca Guadagnino has primarily been a director of short films, including one about Swinton, and she helped finance this feature. There are no car chases, no explosions, no cute dialogue, just real, human drama that is ultimately captivating.

The film begins in winter, with snow covering Milan. Scenes of the gradually darkening city are intercut with a dinner party taking place at a large, modern estate. Tilda Swinton is in charge and soon it becomes clear that she and her husband are hosting a birthday party for her husband’s father. Her three children are in attendance, the eldest Flavio Parenti, the middle daughter Alba Rohrwacher, and the youngest Mattia Zaccaro. The patriarch of the family, owner of a large textile manufacturing company, is ill and he announces he is leaving the company to his son and Parenti. When the scene shifts to the springtime, the patriarch has died and Swinton begins discovering things about her children, the first being that Rohrwacher is gay, a revelation but not something devastating. She also meets Parenti’s best friend, Edoardo Gabbriellini, a chef who wants Parenti to finance a restaurant up in the hills outside of San Remo.

Eventually the audience learns that Swinton is Russian, and married her husband when he was doing business in St. Petersburg. Once living in Italy, however, she allowed herself to become Italian, and never went back. Food is a focal point in the film, but not an obsession. Only two scenes really focus directly on it, the first when Swinton, her mother-in-law, and future daughter-in-law go to eat in the restaurant where Gabbriellini currently works and she has an almost erotic encounter with the food. But it’s not made clear that she is thinking about him in that way, even when she follows him in a chance encounter in San Remo. It’s only when he takes her up to see the place he wants to start his restaurant that he suddenly approaches her from behind and kisses her, the camera wonderfully out of focus. And that, it turns out, is the real conflict, the choice between an increasingly loveless marriage or the thrill of new love with a younger man. The climax of the film is the second scene that obsesses over food.

Tilda Swinton is simply amazing, speaking Italian and Russian and, in one charming scene, unable to understand English. Parenti does well enough, though he’s nothing out of the ordinary, and Rohrwacher’s role was so small that I was really disappointed not to see more of her. Gabbriellini seems an odd choice for the romantic lead, but it works, and his scenes with Swinton are equally odd, and work equally as well. Director Guadagnino makes some odd choices as well, such as the intercutting between the naked couple in a field and the close-ups of insects on flowers. It’s seems as if it should be incredibly trite but, again, it’s somehow forgivable in the context of a beautifully moving film. And the injection of nature and the seasons into the movement of the film is very well done, providing a powerful context within which to frame the story. I Am Love is an incredible film, moving in a subtle way that doesn’t catch up to the viewer until the very end. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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