I Am Love (Italy; 120 min.)


directed by: Luca Guadagnino
starring: Tilda Swinton; Flavio Parenti; Edoardo Gabbriellini; Alba Rohrwacher; Pippo Delbono; Diane Fleri; Marisa Berenson
Lo Sono l'Amore
 

Thom says: "This might well end-up as my TOP FILM for TIFF. Of course, must-see Tilda Swinton is a great help and here she totally shines as a Russian émigré married to an extremely wealthy Italian industrialist, whose company is on the verge of a merger with a Japanese conglomeration. The film begins with a lavish dinner party where the gathered expect a victory celebration for the grandson of the patriarch (his birthday as well), who is a race car driver. Only he hasn’t won as assumed and the man who beat him arrives unexpectedly to the affair. His real job is a world-class chef and he wants to open a destination restaurant with the help of his rival. He ends up in all sorts of relationships with various family members. There is a fabulous grandeur about the film that explodes with continued excitement as the unexpected plot makes dramatic twists and turns. The film reminded me greatly of the inimitable Luchino Visconti with its sense of haughtiness and despair. The beginning of the film which centers on the outside of the palatial estate looks like black & white photography of amazing perception. I’m not at all familiar with director Luca Guadagnino’s work but I hope to be very soon. I loved how the director made so much of the proceedings ambiguous. Swinton was at the Q&A after the film and I was swooning in my seat as she is the most intellectual actress I know and she had so much to tell. 5 cats "

 

Jason says: "Star ratings are an arguably necessary evil, but should be the last thing on a critic's mind as he or she writes a review, let alone watching a film.  So I'm not just chagrined, but kind of ashamed, that while I was watching I AM LOVE, I was thinking something like 'four... three... two (three... two and a half... two)... and only because it looks so nice.'  Still, being aware of a film becoming a crushing disappointment isn't nearly as bad as actually being a crushing disappointment.

"It starts off well enough.  Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) is overseeing a Milano dinner party being held in honor of her father-in-law.  There is much preparation downstairs in the servant's quarters, and some upstairs, as Emma's husband Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) teases their son Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) about losing some sort of athletic competition to a chef.  The chef, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) stops by later, making an impression on Edo - who wants to open a restaurant with him - and Emma, who is emboldened when she learns that her daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) is finding herself attracted to women... Especially since Tancredi and Edo find themselves busy after their grandfather steps down from the family business.

"I AM LOVE starts out strong, with luxuriously extended and stylized opening credits that evoke a different era, right down to how the serifed 'MILANO' fills the entire screen.  There's a beautiful contrast between the busy preparation of the servants and the regal, almost decadent leisure of the wealthy hosts and guests - so wealthy that Edo's new girlfriend, Eva (Diane Fleri) is looked upon with some disapproval because her family is merely rich.  There's a certain fascination in seeing how these two worlds interface, with Emma managing the household staff and trusted, longtime maid Ida (Maria Paiato) serving as a confidante for the entire Recchi family.

"So what goes wrong?  The details stop being interesting.  Director Luca Guadagnino and his co-writers give us multiple storylines to follow, but doesn't do enough with any of them to make them actually interesting.  Words are spent on Antonio's conflict with his unseen father over the idea of opening his own restaurant, but it never seems real or weighty; the same with talks of a foreign buyout of the Recchi's company.  Tancredi is a complete enigma; the third child is so sketchily drawn that I honestly wasn't sure whether Gianluca was meant to be brother, cousin, or family friend; initial words on the older generation thinking Eva is beneath Edo are never followed up.  And there's something almost offensive about what a stereotype Betta becomes.  The only characters who seem to have any individual life are Emma and Ida, but despite some interesting background given on Emma's life before meeting Tancredi, the movie is too diluted to do anything interesting with them, despite running for a while.

"It's always disappointing to realize, when a movie is dragging, that this isn't the film building to something, but just what the film is.  That knocks something that looked good down to mediocrity.  What I AM LOVE does next is even worse; after squandering an hour or so on what feel like truly insignificant matters, it seems to realize that it needs a dramatic end and lurches into idiocy.  The climax is so poorly done that even when someone's deductions are correct, the audience snickers, because even Sherlock Holmes likes a bit more evidence before making an accusation.  Then Guadagnino makes a grab for completely unearned emotion with a random, ridiculous accident.  Yes, there's an argument that this is as much an homage to a certain style of melodrama, but consciously paying homage to something silly doesn't magically make the moment work.

"So much is ridiculous - there are long shots of insects intercut with the sex about midway through - that one can lose track of how promising things seemed early on.  Tilda Swinton, for instance, is excellent as per usual, grabbing at every scrap of characterization she can an making Emma something approaching interesting, even if Guadagnino refuses to build a story around the interesting parts of her character as opposed to a bland attraction to a younger man.  Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux shoots beautiful locations beautifully, and John Adams's score is one of many pieces of the production that works as both pastiche and modern production.

"Indeed, so much seems to be done right at the beginning that it seems like I Am Love could be something special.  Instead, it winds up squandering its early goodwill so relentlessly that I could feel myself crossing thresholds of disappointment as the movie dragged on. 2 cats

"Seen 24 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #3 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)"

Chris responds: "I suspect this is going to be an extremely divisive film, as it's so over-the-top in almost every possible way.  I think it comes down to whether you accept its ridiculousness and weigh that against everything else it does... you'll see where I stand when I (eventually) post a review."

 
Michael says: "I AM LOVE is a problematic film is some ways.  It features another amazing performance by Tilda Swinton.  It’s also gorgeously shot with an assured directorial hand.  The screenplay is strong as it explores a wealthy family in Italy.  So why is it problematic?  Well, for one thing, it is a melodrama… an old-school melodrama along the lines of Douglas Sirk’s films ALL THAT HEAVEN WILL ALLOW or IMITATION OF LIFE.  Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with a melodrama, but it takes a lot of skill to execute.  Of course, in my opinion, director Luca Guadagnino does a pretty bang-up job in creating a melodrama that’s over-the-top, shockingly fun, and unfortunately, occasionally self-indulgent and boring.  My particular problem comes about halfway through the film with an extended lovemaking scene that features extreme close-ups of body parts, flowers and insects.  Add to that the original John Adams score (that makes Philip Glass positively tranquil) and there are moments of frustration.  However, the fever-pitch, incredibly crescendo of the film’s climax is just mind-blowing in a WTF way.  Tilda launches herself into the role (maybe not as fully as her jaw-dropping JULIA, but still it’s pretty insane) with wild abandon, cementing her place as one of today’s most daring actors. 

"The movie alone would probably garner 2 ½ or 3 cats, but with Tilda’s performance and a growing feeling of fondness as time goes by, I have to give this film 4 cats."

Jasonresponds: "What's 'strong' about the screenplay?  I admit, I tend to be fairly insistent on characters doing things, and being the authors of their own destinies, perhaps to a fault, but I think the screenplay to this was incredibly weak, to the point where only slick technical work and reasonably decent performances saved the film from being a complete disaster.  The characters are poorly defined, too much time is spent on tangents which contribute nothing or are dropped randomly, and, well, you've read what I think about the climax and last act.  You put something like that finale in a more mainstream movie, and it is rightly pilloried for its utter randomness and attempting to trade on unearned sentiment."

Beth Curran responds: "Yeah, I have to agree with Jay here - I don't think the screenplay is terribly strong, but then again I think the great Sirk melodramas are not very well written/plotted, either. It's rather beside the point of the genre, anyway - a good melodrama doesn't care about making logical sense, it's all about evoking strong and strongly identifiable emotion, and that's down to the performances and presentation...and also is why the genre itself is pretty much a love/hate one. If you're not feeling the emotion, you're laughing and pointing at it, pretty much."

Michael responds: "I guess strong might have been a poor choice of words. I felt the
screenplay was very consistent with the genre of the film, which was a melodrama. I knew it was a melodrama going in, and it maintained that tone, escalating toward the end, without a doubt, but nothing that happened seemed terribly out of place.

"I particularly enjoyed the way the activities of the members of the household were paralleled with the house staff. That may have been a directorial choice rather than something written into the screenplay, but I appreciated it and felt it was well done. I also felt the characters were clearly defined, and the plot unspooled appropriately building in absurdity as the film progressed, which, as I said, felt consistent to the genre of the film. I also like how certain things were left out, allowing the viewer to make those leaps themselves. Where appropriate it bashed you in the head sometimes, and other times let you figure it out yourself."

 

Toni says: "I love a good melodrama...I AM LOVE was not 'perfect' but I think it had great imagery, a solid Madame Bovary like story, and great conflict... 4 cats for me as well :-).

 
Chris says: "From its opulent and deliberately anachronistic opening credits, this is an unapologetically old-fashioned melodrama, albeit one on crack cocaine with every feeling and stylistic choice ramped up to the nth degree.  Centered on a wealthy Milan family, it’s initially difficult to get a handle on who’s who as we’re immediately thrust, with little exposition like an Altman film, into its milieu. The narrative comes into focus as the family’s dying patriarch gives the keys of his textile empire to son Tancredi and eldest grandson Edo, who would rather open a restaurant with his friend Antonio.  In time, Emma, Tancredi’s Russian-born wife emerges as the key figure, and not just because she is played by Tilda Swinton (speaking fluent Italian, no less).  Even as her character gradually succumbs to the film’s hyperactive emotional state, her magnetic (but not overpowering) presence and steady performance gives viewers something to hold on to.  Director/Screenwriter Luca Guadagnino eventually throws in a shocking turn of events that some may have trouble taking seriously (although Guadagnino is deadly serious about it), but it sets the course for an operatic, furiously-edited finale where the thrilling, maddening score keeps building and building until the whole film reaches a heart-pounding orgasm of liberation and resolve.  Ridiculously massive and moving, I AM LOVE will not appease those seeking subtlety (or even logic), but for me, its skill and sheer chutzpah ultimately transcended those concerns; I could not stop thinking about it for days.  4 1/2 cats"
 

Beth Caldwell says: "I hated this film. I began really loving it, with such beautiful scenes, interesting characters, a good pace. But then once the drama unfolded, to say the film took too many liberties with over-the-top emotional scenes is putting it mildly. Jay and I were laughing by the time the big tension scene arrived. It’s too bad because the film could have taken a different route. And I might also say that the main character, played by Tilda Swinton had very few lines and only one facial expression throughout the whole film, a flaw that can only be blamed on the director. 1 cat"

Jo responds: "I just watched I AM LOVE and I was really bored by it. I totally agree with you about the melodrama and the bad acting by Tilda Swinton. I wondered if she had had botox since her expression didn't change much. 1 cat"

 

Diane says: "Glad to read all of your reviews after seeing I AM LOVE. I was one of those who laughed at the bombast, became bored by the overlong and self-indulgent insect/love-making scene, and who didn't grasp what Edoardo 'raced.' However, kudos for camerawork and all those compelling, often beautiful, faces: Emma, Antonio, Edo, Betta, Ida....

"I was hoping the film would be an allegory about Italy--with that Indian/American man as the mouthpiece for a certain perspective on the necessity of change--because the story of a rich middle-aged woman who falls in love with a younger man who's 'sitting on his groceries' is just not interesting enough. 2 cats"

Scot responds: "Arrrgh, arrgh, arrgh. I am dying to reply to this and to the other I AM LOVE posts we've read. I finally saw it in Provincetown and I think I have a unique view on it. I actually was rather bored by much of the beginning until Tilda's character hit it off with... [no spoilers]... you know who. And I love the last 15 minutes, which seem to be a big sticking point for many.

'The reason I think I have a different perspective, and perhaps one that may help Diane enjoy the film more, has to do with the dialogue the turban-clad man uses right before -- AND AFTER -- Tilda and her son make eye contact during the last dinner scene. Can anyone refresh my memory as to the phrase he utters? Something about 'capital'. That, to me, is the key to the film.

'I will hold you in suspense until someone comes to my rescue.'

Diane responds: "I sincerely hope that dialogue is germane! Can't wait to hear your thoughts. That man said something like: war is good for capitalism--it creates profits that can be used to bring peace. Am I close?"

Scot responds: "Dang it. It was more precise. Yes, he was saying that BS before, but there was a pointed statement that he made that makes a whole lot of sense in context of the -- you know -- the part I can't talk about cause it's a spoiler, between mother and son. DOH. I just tried to see if I could download the film on Netflix or Playstation. No dice. I'll check Comcast next."

Toni responds: "FYI, I thought film had some solid moments and agree that as the intensity built it pulled you in more in the big meal scene... I thought ending clever as well. I did not always feel emotionally attached to the characters; however, I did feel something and it was a beautiful film to watch. 4 cats for me"