28 June, 2010

The Duchess Observes . . .

"I Am Love" (Io sono l'amore)

This past weekend in Los Angeles, the cinemas were stuffed with moviegoers, including yours truly. In a packed house at the Arclight on Saturday night, the Duchess (et cetera) viewed "I Am Love" (or "Io sono l'amore") with great anticipation.

"I Am Love", as we all know by now, tells the story of a Russian beauty married into a magisterial Milanese family who -- tempted by the fruit of the tree of carnal knowledge -- ultimately faces cosmic (karmic?) reckoning, as we do. Signora Emma Recchi, played by the regal Tilda Swinton with lots of derring-do, anchors this cautionary tale of lust, moral ambiguity, and transgression.

Ms. Swinton predictably lights up the screen with her elfin, androgynous face; it's a good thing too, limited as she is by lack of sufficient meaningful dialogue. Human connection through oral communication is a concept foreign to "I Am Love", which instead trades on more sensual pleasures and provocations: food, fashion, wine, and sex are its currencies.

It isn't superficial. It is ambitious. It caresses without embracing an exploration of the nature of desire, and its power over us; but it works to impart a handful of moral lessons, or to raise a handful of moral questions. For example: read charitably, it could be seen as asking whose sins are the cruellest and bloodiest? Whose abandonment of unspoken family promises causes the most upheaval and disgrace? Where can the Duchess locate a pair of those most intensely fabulous tangerine pants worn by Sra. Recchi as she readies herself for violation in the hills near San Remo?

The Duchess, as you darlings are well aware, is not so charitable. Oh no, no. In the end, "I Am Love", though undeniably visually gorgeous, failed to present in its main character a complex and strong heroine, and in the end it relied too heavily on cliche about the "nature" of woman. There was more than a touch of hysteria in the film. Naturally all of the women who flout male authority and assert their own power cut off all their hair (this is true in real life, the Duchess is told); "I Am Love" comes complete with a lesbian daughter who studies photography in bermuda shorts and brogues in London of all places. Please. She also happens to be blonde, like her mother, Ms. Swinton's character, and not at all like the devoted, true Italian (and brunette) women who keep those home fires burning -- the devoted housekeeper Ida (played marvelously by Maria Paiato), the cherished son's beloved fiancee Eva, and of course Marisa Berenson in the Carmella Corleone role (the Duchess liked her better in Barry Lyndon). And interesting that the Indian businessman, who negotiates the sale of the Recchi family business, is named Mr. Kubelkian (criminally close to Kublai Khan -- or is that the point?).

In the end the Duchess recommends "I Am Love." It's a bit overwrought in its denouement, but otherwise (in her view) is quite beautiful, and quite evocative of the heady intoxication brought on by early love.


  1. One of the best film reviews I have ever read. Brava.



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