The ties that bind: Swinton e famiglia in I Am Love. (Image courtesy of New Directors/New Films.)
I AM LOVE
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Screening Fri., April 2 and Sun., April 4
Let’s just get this out of the way, we LOVE Tilda Swinton. From her early collaboration with the late Derek Jarman (that naughty little iconoclast), to her Oscar-winning turn in Michael Clayton to what should have been another award-winning performance in last year’s Julia (Sandra Bullock? Really, Oscar voters?), Tilda has proven to be one of the most consistently reliable performers in contemporary cinema. Her latest work is no exception. Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love focuses on La Swinton’s star turn as the matriarch to a powerful Milanese famiglia whose sense of tradition begins to unravel when passion threatens to disrupt their carefully manicured lifestyle.
There are many things to enjoy in this film: the refreshing focus on contemporary Italian landscapes, the gliding camerawork reminiscent of maestro Robert Altman, the beauty of Italian boys (mamma mia!) and the very welcome return of ’70s fashion icon and actress Marisa Berenson, perfectly cast as the regal grand dame of the beleaguered brood. But the film belongs to Swinton. Crafted as a labor of love between herself and the director, she owns every minute of screen time. Outwardly cool as a former Russian beauty that married into a filthy rich industrial family, her frosty exterior begins to dissolve once she meets her eldest son’s best friend, a hirsute chef with a penchant for exotic recipes and a hunger for life.
The film maintained our interest throughout — with a couple of glaring exceptions. To help visualize the inner passions that have been simmering underneath Swinton’s carefully-coiffed veneer, Guadagnino indulges in some very florid transitional montages that simply come out of left field. We understand the psychology behind the choice, but did not appreciate the excess. And for a movie that does so well in portraying the intricate familial relationships of a large Italian clan, the scenes that involve the business side of their empire fall flat. (Joan Collins was more convincing as a successful businesswoman.)
What makes this film memorable is the handling of the characters and the performances. We understand these people, we care about them and when the movie builds momentum in its shattering final set piece, we are completely hooked. Aided immeasurably by renowned modern classical composer John Adams’ minimalist score, not to mention the balls-to-the-walls acting, the climax is satisfying on all levels. While we enjoyed the ride immensely, however, we would like to caution viewers to pay close attention to the final moments: Once the end credits begin to roll, we implore you to grab your Fendi clutch and RUN! Apparently, the director could not resist one final lapse in judgment, a tacked on coda that almost ruins the solid ending.