I Am LoveReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/04/10 13:49:40
SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2010: 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... 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 any one of them to make it worth our attention. 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 to make Emma something approaching interesting, even if Guadagnino refuses to build a story around the unusual parts of her character as opposed to a bland attraction to a younger man. Cinematographer Yoick 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.
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