Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Am Love

I don’t think anyone in my family is Italian. My dad’s side of the family is from North Jersey, where there are certainly plenty of Italians, but Peddie is a Scottish name. Dad must have had quite a lot of exposure to Italian culture growing up, though, because the influence of that culture is readily apparent in his speech and in the foods he likes to eat. That Y chromosome hasn’t mutated much in me, because I’m pretty much an idiot for pasta and mob stories. I Am Love is neither pasta nor a love story, but it is a movie that was shot on location in various parts of Italy; and it stars Tilda Swinton, for whom I am also an idiot.

This would probably still have been a fine movie if they had taken away everything but the sweeping cinematography of the shooting locations - Dolceacqua, Milan, and San Remo - but there was also the excellent starring role for Swinton, who played Emma Recchi, the almost stir crazy Russian wife of an Italian textiles heir. The story is pretty standard - bored older woman falls for passionate, creative younger man while cold, distant husband is out of town; but it’s freshened up a bit by the young lover’s occupation (Antonio is a chef, and apparently a pretty good one) and how he seduces her with his food as well as his body, and by a nostalgia for her home country that begins to emerge in Emma. It’s also somewhat refreshing that neither Emma nor Antonio are drop dead gorgeous, and that the sex isn’t the only attraction.

There are love scenes, of course, but there are also cooking scenes and outdoors scenes - lots of outdoors scenes, in those beautiful Italian locations - and a real sense from Swinton’s Emma of just how much of herself she has suppressed over the course of her marriage to a man with whom she clearly is no longer in love. A subplot concerning Emma’s daughter Elisabetta, who reveals her homosexuality to her mother but says that she will not tell her father because he would not understand, reinforces the idea that women sacrifice their happiness when they feel compelled to suppress their true selves in order to maintain the stability of the stultified, patriarchal family structure. (It’s also a backhanded slap at “traditional,” conservative thinking - not that many of those people are going to see this movie, since it ain’t in American.)

The only problem with the film - and it’s a not insubstantial one - is the injection of the primary conflict that drives the story to its climax. I had read in several places that this film is a melodrama, and that was concerning because melodrama usually doesn’t work very well for me; but I didn’t detect much in the way of melodrama through the first two acts. It turns out that the reason for this is because they were saving it all for the third act. The primary conflict in question, of course, is the revelation of Emma’s infidelity; and a couple of established plot points combine to make the actual reveal pretty effective. It’s from that point to the end that the film starts to go off the rails. Swinton mostly holds it together, though, and there’s a very effective scene, with her daughter, that mitigates much of the almost slapstick feel of the end of the film.

And then it ends perfectly - at least for me. It doesn’t happen very often that I get to a point in a film where I’m thinking, “End now, end now, end now,” and then it does, in fact, end. This one did, though, and cut right to the credits. The lights came up, and most of the other people in the auditorium started muttering with surprise. I heard one person say, “I guess that’s it, huh?” There’s a tiny little quasi-scene, at the beginning of the credits, which really didn’t work, and sort of undermined that excellent ending; but it wasn’t really enough to take away from how good the film was overall. It is, however, along with the high melodrama in the third act and the clumsy climax, enough to keep the film seated in the very good, but not great, section - but just barely.

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