Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

I Am Love

July 18, 2010 - 3:54pm -- Carol Diehl

Tilda Swinton in "I Am Love"

I’m still in the afterglow of Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love,” which I saw the other night. Even though I linked to it, don’t watch the trailer, which is not only a spoiler, but offers a series of staccato bytes from a piece that unfolds its subtle surprises with a tempo of its own. Just be sure see it while it’s still on the big screen, because it’s a film to sink into, be totally immersed, all senses stimulated. Especially in these bombastic times, the level of subtlety and restraint is extraordinary. Enhanced by oblique cinematography and editing, the narrative-free story is told with the slightest of clues, its intensity sustained because we’re shown only the events that directly contribute—such as the engagement party but not the wedding, nor the patriarch’s funeral—after handing over his assets, we know he must surely have died because he’s not in the final scenes. My friend, Petria, who I saw it with, said, “He (Guadagnino) trusts us to fill in the blanks” and later I found an interview with Tilda Swinton who talked about “giving the viewer ownership.”

While critical opinion ranged from “artistic triumph” to “artsy mishmosh”, it’s surprising that many critics would choose to call this “melodrama,” which is characterized by “exaggerated emotions, stereotypical characters, and interpersonal conflicts.” Here the characters are under, rather than over-acted, and hardly stereotypical—the cuckolded husband isn’t even a meanie--and the much of the drama occurs around a serving of soup.

‘I Am Love” was developed by Guadagnino and Swinton over a period of nearly a decade (Swinton interview), and which resulted in an attention to detail that could not have been hurried. The aggressively modern, symmetrically rhythmic score, a composite of existing pieces by contemporary composer John Adams, is nearly another character in the film (I wrote this before finding a video interview with Guadagnino about his process where he says that very thing), and played almost perversely against mood—urgent and insistent during languid scenes, tantalizing lighter during those more emotionally charged. (Guadagnino has said that he doesn’t like being “told by the music what to feel.”)  And the subtle inclusion of Elliot Smith’s “Pretty (Ugly Before),” by an artist who, before his tragic death, never found his place in this world, is more than indie music dropped in for its cool factor, but the perfect allusion to the daughter’s inner turmoil over her secret life, still playing on her iPod (i.e. in her head) as she greets her family.

My only complaint is that the ending is a little too abrupt and inconclusive, reminding me of Fassbinder’s “The Marriage of Maria Braun,” where it seemed the director didn’t know what to do with his protagonist, so he just blew her up.

Two other characters in the film: the house and the food. The house is Villa Necchi Campiglio, and can be found on, a website of historic house museums. The food in the film was real so that the reactions to it would be real, and prepared by Milan chef Carlo Cracco, who runs the Michelin two-star restaurant Cracco.  Both might justify a trip to Milan.

Cracco's soup in "I Am Love"



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