Saturday, January 1, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#1) I AM LOVE (Lo Sono L'Amore)

(note: it's quite possible that this was the kind of film, full of elegant and wild and luscious over-the-top artistic intent and (some) integrity- it is Italian after all- that would have made it a better watch in a theater when it was released last summer.  But alas, netflix-instant was the way to go, and had its wonderful colors come out fine in the HD TV)

Aren't we all.
I Am Love is something I wasn't quite expecting: a slow-burner melodrama.  Somehow those two should not go together as items (one usually associates a 'slow-burner' with a thriller, like, say, Bong Joon-Ho's Mother).  But how director Luca Guadagnino puts it together is a fascinating, inventive and somewhat original feat.  It's a film that wears its nationality on its sleeve: you will see, whether you want to or not (but hey, you want to watch the film, you get it anyway), lots of shots of buildings in industrial Milan, and then when the scenes shift to San Remo also in Italy there are many angles given to the bright and dark contours of the countryside, the fields, the mountains, the roads that they travel.

But there is a method to all of this.  I think it's something to do with nature, or how the nature of the surroundings affect the characters, in subconscious ways that somehow affect them when they least expect it.  Or, when they do expect it, it comes on in waves about the passions and desires that are underneath.  Obstensibly this sounds like a story of power turning over: the Recchi family, led by the Patriarch, is being changed over as the 'Grandfather' decides to let the reins go and retire.  It's a company that does... well, I'm not quite sure.  Maybe textile work or knitting, we only see a couple of moments of this.  But what the hell, it's a big factory, it's a big business, and it's kept the family in the comfort of the bourgeoisie (or haute bourgeoisie, I forget which).  And in this family, now the son and grandson, Tancredi and Eduardo respectively, are put in charge.

As the company is put to the test opf the current economic climate- that is a few years ago we're led to believe, in the age before cell phones ran rampant- the mother of the family, a Russian that was brought over to Milan and mothered Eduardo and a daughter, Emma (Tilda Swinton), is left more to her own devices, just hanging around, having meals, and meeting Eduardo's friend and superb-chef-man, Antonioni (assumed hunk-with-a-beard, at least the hunkiest the movie can do for women, Edoardo Gabbriellini).  Emma feels lust for him, and how we know she does is one of the filmmaker's clever cinematic tricks, even to the point of being a kind of pure surrealism (that she's quite well-off and having sexual fantasies is not lost on a Luis Bunuel fan).

What is this scene?  Well, it's not the only one, but it's the one I'll go back to hopefully over time with a Netflix Instant account: Emma is at dinner with a couple of friends and is served a seafood dish.  It's one of those plates that has the super-exquisite set-up with not much actual food save for a few pieces of scant shrimp and vegetables in lots of cream.  Before this Emma has been getting some first-hand experience at how Antonio cooks and is fascinated, and it's a dish that somehow has her racing back in her mind to him, to little glances, looks, a 'feeling state' as my film professor might say.  How does she feel?  Well, just watch in the scene, in extreme fetishistic close-up that would make Tarantino drool ala strudel in Inglourious Basterds, and in cuts that leap off from where Emma is really at: the lighting changes and the focus has everyone else in shadows except for the harsh light on her, the intense cutting of each little piece of shrimp, savoring it, every little bite and cut and her mind racing back to Antonio and...  Did I get carried away with that?  I hope so.

I Am Love isn't entirely a great film, though it eventually attains it in the last half hour, which I'll get to in  a moment.  There are a few scenes where the director comes off as being self-satisfied with his own ultra-hip cutting and camera angles that emphasize... what, exactly?  Disassociation?  Simple dischord might be it, from what Emma is existing in and the outside world.  There is one scene that works, but just barely from being a too hit-over-the-head sequence where we see Emma in the midst of her affair taking shape with Antonio in a field, and the film cuts between shots of, again, extreme close-shots of flesh, some him, some hers, some very sweaty-both, and with shots of bugs and flowers and the intermingling and grass.  What does this have to do with the fucking?  An intimate connection with nature?  Compare/contrast?  It's all beautifully shot, but it veers on suddenly enterting pretension.  Luckily the material just skates by the skin of its teeth, if only, mayhap, for the intensity of Swinton in the scene.

Oh, and of course Swinton once again brings an emotional resonance to her character that is just staggering.  Where she is able to pull all of this from is one of the mysterious things that makes her so precious in the film acting world.  She has a fantastic ability to disappear into her characters, but never lose the connection she has with us, which is so important for a character who has been absorbed into an upper-class lifestyle filled with maids and butlers and people who can wait on her hand and foot - that is, except, usually, for her husband (badump-tish).  Swinton has something going on even when she's simply smiling or looking content.  When her face turns concerted and filled with a lustful confusion, it's exhilirating as we're brought along with her.  And then it comes to that last half hour.

I mention the 'slow-burner' aspect as I Am Love is something one has to stick with.  If it were made in America so much of it could be easily spelled out.  I understand if some will have a problem with this aspect of it, how much time it takes to draw the viewer in to its seemingly simple story of a rich Italian family of industry.  But when it finally does build up to where it's going, it leads to some of the finest and most rewardingly honest drama in years.  It's in this last half hour where a great sudden tragedy happens, and it changes what's going on immediately on the surface but underneath lets out for Emma what's been there for so long and she hasn't tapped into: how trapped she's been.

The numb quality to her, physically and emotionally, moved me so dearly.  It's a display of raw emotion that is subconscious; we know how devastated she is, but it moves us more to see her not be able to tap into it - at least, at first.  The final scene achieves a kind of melodramatic-shoot-out feel ala The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  Only a lack of a denouemont is troubling here, but can be forgiven for the wonderful feeling given by the (not-too) quick cuts and harrowing music (which, by the way, nears Leonard Bernstinian feeling of balletic precision).

I Am Love is European art-film all the way and damn proud of it.  It will bring in its audience or it won't, and I can see this being a split-the-crowd kind of film.  Good.  I'm glad to have seen it, despite sadly not in the ideal environment of a NYC art-house with fellow snobs who could soak in the rich Italian atmosphere and Swinton's searing and dark performance.  It's not one of the best of the year, but it made me feel something deep and true and that's something.

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