18 June 2010

Review: Io Sono l'Amore (I Am Love)

Genre: Drama / Romance

In her review of director's Luca Guadagnino's Romantique Io Sono l'Amore (I Am Love), Manohla Dargis of the Times invokes the phrase, "it’s almost a surprise everyone isn’t wearing period costumes." In my review of the same film, I'd like to open by invoking the palpabilization of the turn-key of that phrase - that is, I open by invoking the appreciation that Io Sono l'Amore is for all its luxe beauty and imagery a period piece - albeit one that perhaps has not yet had its brass knob shon by history, but a period piece anyway.

Indeed, even as though the characters in the film revolve around its impressive interiors and flush exteriors, they exist only in their period, suspended far above the relatively quotidian boorishnesses of the contemporary public whose members are theirs and our common guests. In no instance in the film is this observation clearer than that instance in which Emma, played openly by Tilda Swinton, and Tancredi, her husband played by Pippo Delbonno, report to the tiny green and cloistered room, to receive the confirmation of their sons passionate demise, where outside lingers, disaffectedly low in his chair, a swarthy youth in loose denim, chalky white sneakers, and a rumpled headset. There, the confirming doctor shuts the door on the young man, the antithesis of the polished aristocrat who their son was, as if the rumpled common man, the labile background to their gilded and alchemical dramatizations.

However, expounding upon the status of the film as one of capsulization and explication nevertheless does not approach the certainty of a critique upon the work in it, nor an assessment of its strengths and weaknesses - its accomplishment of its clearly high ambition. No, to address these aspects of the work one must regard the opulence as setting, the dramatization as core, and the rumpled headset of a stint a fleeting hint of noise in an otherwise cream-like production. Yes, cream-like. Even creamy, were it not for the sloppy conception with which that term goes. Director Guadagnino seems unable in truth to resist dairy richness in crafting this piece; he samples breasts, desserts, clouds, puffs, lips, rounds, swirls, whorls, and - as Ms. Dargis also wrote it - "Tilda Swinton’s alabaster face" as if the sensuality of absorbing and preserving such living and lulling luxuries were as comforting to him as erotic. He urges the viewer to feel the same. Yet, while these urgings manifest in the forms of tight shots, wide arrays, sparkling diamonds, blurry sex, and an epic score, his almost cold remotion of himself and the viewer from all the interstitial moments among these swoons prevent the viewer's full entry into the rhythm of the passion and the drama as much as, I suspect, he was intended to do. Miscellaneous objects and extras block the frame and distract attention from the subjects; cinematographical clippings err badly here and there, lobbing off content almost willy-nilly; and frigid, practically deathly blues surprise and dismantle otherwise ecstatically wrought situations of fantasy. In fact, the dichotomy is so striking in terms of color-choice that the entire opening of the film, alternating from the wintry exteriors of December's snowy Milan to the flourishing interiors of the Recchi's decorous manse, suggests to a literal reader the passage of the family's arriving patriarch from outside to inside as much a phantasmagoric visitation as an invited one.

Yet, nevertheless, there is wonder here, and there is beauty. The baroque opulence that does decorate the characters and their surroundings compels a reading of those characters and their story as much a textural fabric as those that the Recchi family's business produces: smooth, cherished, woven, shapable, and  occasionally velveteen. Sensually relentless, the film wends its way through loops and glides, extending caresses for food, gazes, and woozy tableaux along the way. To our the viewers' eyes, it is like watching the tailoring of a very fine suit from this fabric being expended: slight marks by chalk, a shuffing and smoothening, long slips of conformity, cutting, realigning, and finally sewing finitely with threads.

It is a beautiful suit. Hold it against your face, anyone, to imagine yourself being dressed by its decadent feeling; but put it on your self, only you, to fit its personalized couturier's style.

Grade: B.

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