A gorgeous film poster.
I know you all think that I am mostly about vintage movies and you'd be right most of the time. But I do occasionally watch 'newish' films. And I am very fond of foreign movies as anyone who knows me will tell you.
I'd been keeping an eye out for the Italian film, I AM LOVE, for a while now - ever since I read months ago that Tilda Swinton was starring. I was lured by the very positive comments about the splendor of the cinematography, especially. This IS the summer of Italian books for me, after all.
I AM LOVE was shot in and around Milan (the film begins in a snowy Milan winter) and even though I've never been there (darn luck), I'd say that Milan has probably never looked better. This facet of the film made me want to pack my bags and head for the airport - destination: Milano!
Unfortunately - keeping in mind that I am a keen fan of Tilda Swinton - the cinematography is all that I can enthusiastically recommend about this film. So why am I talking about it anyway? Well, because the cinematography is so splendid AND for about 3/4 of the film you may actually care what happens. I am curious about films that fall apart in the last reel - so to speak. Everything is going along, more or less, and then, for whatever reason, the screenplay just tanks. This is one of those films that sets you up then lets you down - big time - because you know, you really did want it all to work. You were cheering it on. In a film of this type there has to be some sort of pay-off or otherwise, really, it could just go on indefinitely till it peters out. Oh wait, that's exactly what happens.
Now, giving for the discrepancy in language and expression, though I'm assuming the English subtitles were as accurate as they can be when you're translating a Latin language into a non - still, there had to be something going on here that I was missing - some subtlety of which I remained unaware.
Essentially, I AM LOVE is the story of the disintegration of an old, respected and rather cool in temperament, aristocratic Italian family. The Recchis are a family undone by passion and other disturbances of the heart and soul. They have textile factories and wealth - kind of like the Missonis of Milan, owners of the fabulous and stylish Missoni line of fabrics and fashion. NOT saying the family in the film ARE supposed to be the Missonis, just saying that that's sort of what they reminded me of. (Though hopefully, the Missonis are a much happier clan.)
This sort of story has been told many times before and the best part of this particular telling is the showcasing of Milan, the Recchis' gorgeous house, the glamorous dinner parties, the food, the servants, etc...You do often get exhausted (at least I do) trying to figure out why people with so much material success can't be happy. It is one of life's imponderables.
Anyway, slowly and surely and often accompanied by hauntingly beautiful photography, you realize that all is not as it should be. Tilda Swinton plays Emma Recchi, wife of the current patriarch, Tancredi. She is a Russian ex-pat ("I became an Italian.") who married into the family and has raised two kids now grown and hoping to make their way in the world. When her daughter 'Becca reveals herself to be a lesbian involved in an affair with one of her teachers, Emma takes it in stride, though the truth is never revealed to the rest of the family. Her son, Edoardo (played by Flavio Parenti); young, impressionable and clingy, has, with his father, been left in charge of the factory ( a heavy family burden) upon the death of the grandfather and is doing his best to prove himself worthy.
Edoardo (called Edo in the film) has a close friend, a young chef named Antonio whom Emma meets on and off over the course of a few months. And therein lies the tale - the final tear in the Recchi veneer.
Though the actor playing Antonio, Edoardo Gabbriellini, is never shown to be especially handsome or charismatic he almost immediately attracts Emma's interest. The 'why' of this is left to our imaginations. Antonio does know how to cook though and I'm assuming that's the chief draw for Emma, though she, herself is thought to be a good enough cook - not that she spends much time in the kitchen. I think she falls completely under his spell while eating a colorful dish of prawns he makes especially for her while she is lunching with her mother-in-law (played by Marisa Berenson).
I can see Antonio being drawn to the always exotic Tilda, but the reverse? Not so much. I mean, one minute, he is just her son's friend and she, his friend's mother, then all of a sudden (literally), they are making mad, passionate love in the Italian countryside.
Very nicely photographed, too.
But you know, I didn't really care. It's all very prettily done, very steamy in spots, but did I care? Was I engaged? Nope.
The rest of the film is generally predictable, punctuated here and there with scenic splendor including a magnificent drive through the countryside to Antonio's place in the mountains (actually his grandfather's land) where the main trysting takes place.
I kept thinking oh well, the family will somehow find out - Emma and Antonio are hardly being discreet - and though the son will make for an awkward moment or two (not to mention, the husband), the family will accommodate this latest turn of events and all will smooth itself out in the end. These wealthy aristocratic families can be unrelenting juggernauts.
Suddenly, melodrama with a Capital M rears its ugly head in the 'last reel'. A death occurs which is so obviously a plot point and nothing else that it leaves you gasping with bemusement rather than horror.
The end of the film is mostly revealed in dramatically accented silence, stoic tears and the disappearance of a character which is meant to imply, I suppose, that love and passion are more important than family.
But I loved the photography and I say, if you want to see Milan and the Italian countryside and a wonderful city house in all their glory, then watch the first 3/4 of the film with the sound down a bit. Did I mention that the background music is so melodramatically, over-the-top intense that it must be, has to be meant as parody? Well, it is.
Watch the trailer here. It's amazing what a good trailer can do.
NOTE: Roger Ebert, a movie critic I like very much, gave this film a good review (4 stars, I think) so maybe you might care to be guided by him rather than my own grumpy assessment.