Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review: "I Am Love"

Tilda Swinton is marvelous in "I Am Love," playing a woman married into a wealthy Italian family who is desperate for meaningful affection. The film itself, though, is a lavishly-decorated soap opera masquerading as a deeply-felt human drama.

Emma is a Russian who married Tancredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono), scion of a dynasty of textile manufacturers from Milan. Though an accepted part of the family, she consciously distances herself subtly from the Recchis -- even from her three adult children.

She is a woman playing the part of gracious hostess without ever having really joined the party. And the Recchis love to throw parties: As the story opens, they are celebrating the birthday of the family patriarch. Emma oversees the extensive preparations, but retires to her bedroom just as the festivities are kicking into high gear.

Director Luca Guadagnino, who also co-wrote the screenplay, has a distinctive oblique way of shooting his subjects. We're continually seeing them from odd angles, extreme close-ups, or long shots where they meld into the Italian environs.

Technically it's brilliant, but I admit my Americanized brain found his style overly ornamented for its own sake. The languid pace as Guadagnino's camera obsesses over mundane details of food preparation and expensive clothing will thrill European cinephiles, but the words that repeatedly came to my mind were "quit dawdling."

This film seems less directed than designed.

Swinton speaks both Russian and Russian-flavored Italian in this movie, and it sounded flawless to my ear.

She plays Emma as a woman who's been hiding herself for the last 20-odd years, and it's only a matter of time before her buried passions burn through her careful facade and find a way out.

Opportunity presents itself when her son Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) introduces her to his new friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabriellini), a quiet, intense chef. Emma arranges to bump into him in a remote town, and their sun-dappled coupling is depicted with intoxicating sensuality.

Other members of the Recchi family float around in the background, occasionally coming to the fore. Emma's daughter Betta (Alba Rohrwacher) cuts her hair short and confides her new love affair to her mother, which only seems to encourage Emma's own yearnings. Edoardo's girlfriend (Diane Fleri) hesitates as the Recchis slyly judge her as a potential mate; her experiences likely mirror those Emma had a generation ago, but Guadagnino strangely never acknowledges this obvious connection.

In a film that centers on an extramarital affair, not depicting the rift lines in the marriage cheats the audience. Tancredi, though, remains a bit player in this melodrama. Guadagnino tacks on a nasty, indignant moment near the end to make the husband seem like the bad guy, but the truth is he's the wronged party in this equation.

"I Am Love" is exactly the sort of film that critics tend to adore and audiences tend to ignore. In this case, I throw my lot in with the masses.

2 stars out of four

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