Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Review: I Am Love

"Happy? 'Happy' is a word that makes one sad. . . Why aren't you happy?"

I Am Love. A line taken from the song, "La Mamma Morta" as sung by the legendary Maria Callas, one of my favorite singers. In this beautiful aria from Andrea Chénier,    Maddalena is conveying her feelings and past to Gerard, who vies for her affections. 

She sings to him of her hopes for life, for love, for beauty and grandeur in the world after living sickly and poor through the horrors of the French Revolution. 

Tilda Swinton is directed by Luca Guadagnino (Melissa P.) as a Russian expatriate wed into a wealthy Italian family. It doesn't taker her long to fit in, and acclimatize to her new lifestyle as the wife to a Milano Textile Manufacturers. The grandfather announces at his birthday party his retirement as head of the family company, Recchi. He names his son Tancredi, and grandson Edo, as his replacements. 

From this moment on, the events of the film begin to truly unfold, and that's we're I'll leave it, and only speak cryptically of the things I'll reference.

We open the film  in the winter with the city blanketed in snow. Shots with thin white credits are shown to us as we meet Emma Recchi (Swinton), who's prepping a family dinner party. Running to and fro with maids, house workers and cooks, we see how she tends to things, empty, this is more of a responsibility then a joy of the queen of the family. 

The camera follows and swoops and pans and doesn't blink. We are thankful for it. At times, the camera finds interesting angels and cuts and set-ups to show us these troubled Italian people. Close on a forehead down to the eyeline, a wrist, a foot, a cheek (either kind), a shoulder, breast, thigh, (Mmm. . . Chicken tonight son.) What we get from this is a visceral, nebulous experience of images, sounds and emotions that throws into an Italian landscape of the five senses. Whether it's rolling in the grass making love, cutting a piece of shrimp, unboxing cookies or standing inside a church and talking to God himself, this glorious film never misses  a chance to show us how beauty, sad and heavy this world for these Italian family members with their own individual stories and tribulations. 

Oh, these troubled Italian people. We get the sense that the only one who doesn't have problems in the immediate Recchi is Tancredi, the father and Husband, and he does not. Which is also what makes him so boring. His detachment to his family, his slight sense of disappointment of in his son Edo, and his adequate but passionless marriage. He is, quite a boring businessman, and nothing really more. We understand the course that Emma journey takes her on through the film, especially. When she has so many reasons igniting her sense of passion to do just that. 

Her children, who take on lives of their own through the film, are young twenty somethings trying to find their places in life. The daughter, Betta, goes to London, and finds it. The son, Edo, thinks he has with his girlfriend, the very attractive Eva, but there will always be something missing with him. His dear friend, Antonio, wishes for his own restaurant, and Edo through his giant business connections and power, makes that all possible. They are set for their own building, and Antonio will be the head chef, cooking his rare and tasteful meals, and not the simple Italian dishes his father prefers at his restaurant. 

We see all this happen as the camera expresses the mood of the actors, almost better than they do. Yorick Le Saux as the cinematographer captures and creates truly evocative images the bring a sense of calm passion to every every set-up, every shot, every frame. He uses the sunlight to an advantage that I haven't seen in much other than Tree Of Life, another one with 100% stunning shots and lensing. There is a specific scene in which two people in this film make love. And oh boy, do we feel the love they are making. 

Speaking of the rest of the crew, while the cinematography well deserved a nod from our wonderfully snide academy  the relief is that costume designer Antonella Cannarozzi got hers. The sense fashion that these eloquent people possess is this film is, well, just as you'd expect from a not rich, but wealthy family in Milan, Italy. As uncomfortable as we eventually see Emma is insider her own family, never truly feeling a place for her own is really there among them, she is secure in her clothing, in her below the knee dresses, her big brown sunglasses, pearls, scarfs, sweaters tied around  her neck. In the only fashion Tilda Swinton knows how, with calm grace and mature gusto. 

This film is about the resolution of feeling, the resurgence of love, of passion, of bursting-at-the-seams-affection. Finding yourself at the ends of your mind, wasting away and not realizing you are dying, until you start to wake up, to live again, to run, literally into the arms of love, of a life anewed among the forest, the tree, the bugs, the flowers and the sun. 

And maybe even food. I Am Food. Something could be said to the culture of the Italian aristocracy, or, maybe the country entirely, with how precise, precious and meticulous they are about their beautiful food, and the wine it goes with. The right measure of this, the right blending of that. Temperature. Flavoring. Coloring. Age. You can of course attribute this to many other parts of the world. But you won't see like you do in this film. The food and wine itself is a co-star. 

Swinton shows us through her glorious Italian accent spot on the way (through her research with female Russian immigrant to Italy, her age) a Russian expatriate would. She speaks her natural born language with her son, Edo. He loves her Russian blood, her Russian soup, her Russian soul. So does she, and having to shed that layer of herself, and become an Italian aristocrat, has made her weary, old, slow. Like a boxer who simply doesn't fight anymore, sometimes they seem jaded. We watch as she always so carefully is using her eyes to chose her words for herself. She is being driven by her mind to keep moving among these people, like she doesn't want to blow her cover, and expose herself as, an unnatural.

In her last words spoken in the film, we get the pain, passion, love, remorse, beauty, and weight and gravitas that Swinton is capable of giving the camera. She does this with all the power only the Italian language could possibly contain. Broken, scared, hopeful, lovingly standing in a church and in the presence of God she announces her truth. The truest thing she'd come across and embraced the entire film. What follows is an operatic ending the likes of which I've seldom seen. We're both rooting for her and crying for what could have been at the same time. John Adams' selected pieces of music (he so graciously let the filmmakers use) are what give us the epic heavenly experience we deserve from material  like this. He is a minimalist composure I have great respect for. A genre at that I listen to almost daily. 

Guadagnino and Swinton make a masterpiece of a tale about the power of love, what it can do and what it costs. 

Please stop reading this and go get the Bluray. 
Eat your heart out.

Munki out.

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