I Am Love

I Am Love features a jaw-dropping performance by one of the world’s best living actresses–the strange and wonderful Tilda Swinton. That should be reason enough to see it. But the film as a whole is a spectacular artistic achievement–overflowing with life, depth, beauty, elegance, and originality. It’s a true film for the senses, and a must-see for any lover of the cinema.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, take a moment to watch it here:

The film, directed by Luca Guadagnino, is set in Italy in contemporary times, yet has a decidedly retro feel to it–somewhere between The Godfather and Fellini. The narrative centers upon the Recchi family–a wealthy Milanese family representative of the old haute bourgeoisie–as they are forced to adjust to a changing world. Matriarch Emma (Swinton), who married in to the family, never quite feels at home in her role as Italian aristocrat and society hostess. The film is largely about her self-discovery as she encounters a lower-class chef who awakens her passion and emboldens her to transcend her circumstances.

The film’s plot and themes — breaking free from repression, discovering the beauty of life via unbridled passion and transgressive behavior — are at first quite familiar, and disappointingly amoral. Woman breaks free of highly structured, corseted life by eschewing obligation and shacking up with a vibrant young artist (in this case, an artist of food). Seen it many times before. But as I Am Love concludes–in a spectacular cacophony of sound, montage, and story resolution–it becomes clear that this is not just another “yeah! Infidelity is so freeing!” sort of film. It’s about much more than that.

Most of the “more” this film has to offer is in its generous attention to detail, beauty, and sensual existence — whether in a gorgeous closeup of a bee pollinating a flower or a macaron from Laduree, or a sprawling shot of cathedral, or the elegantly intense music from composer John Adams. Embodying a style critic Manohla Dargis called “postclassical Hollywood baroque,” I Am Love is one of those films that reminds us why we love movies so much. It puts the beauty of the world under a microscope in a way that feels both familiar and foreign, real and imaginary. It universalizes the foreign and makes the mundane transcendent. I Am Love is not without its faults, but it certainly achieves one of those rare levels of cinematic ambition that makes one think of Coppola or Kubrick or Malick.

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8 responses to “I Am Love

  1. Christopher Benson

    Brett:

    Apparently you and I both know Matthew Lee Anderson. I’m a guest blogger on “Mere Orthodoxy.”

    I couldn’t find an e-mail address for you on this blog. We both write for Christianity Today, although I’ve just begun with my interview of James Davison Hunter in the May issue and a forthcoming review of Terry Eagleton’s “On Evil” (Yale Press, 2010) in the September issue.

    I’m writing you with a proposal. You seem well-qualified to write a review of “Winter’s Bone” for CT. Do you think the magazine would be interested in the movie?

    I learned about “Winter’s Bone” from film critic, David Edelstein, on CBS’s program “Sunday Morning.” He said there are only three movies that are worth seeing this summer and they’re all “indie gems” directed by women, blowing away the season’s mega-budget studio junk. Edelstein thinks “Winter’s Bone” is the best movie of the year so far. Click on the link below:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/06/20/sunday/main6600495.shtml?tag=contentMain;contentBody

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Christopher

  2. Hey Christopher,
    Thanks for the comment! I have been wanting to see “Winter’s Bone” and would love to write a review of it. I’ll check with the movies editor at CT about a review. Sounds like a film CT would want to cover.
    I look forward to your review of Eagleton’s latest. I’m a huge fan of “After Theory” and “The Meaning of Life,” so I look forward to seeing what he has to say about evil!
    Blessings,
    Brett

  3. Christopher Benson

    Thanks for responding to my comment, Brett. Please send me an e-mail with your e-mail address because I would like to ask you a few questions outside the public domain of the blog.

    I’m glad you’re familiar with Terry Eagleton. He’s one of my favorite contemporary writers/thinkers. His IDEA OF CULTURE, HOW TO REAM A POEM, and ILLUSIONS OF POSTMODERNISM are all worth reading. The first books was used heavily in my master’s thesis on the concepts of culture in The New York Times Magazine. I plan on reading the two titles you mentioned in addition to REASON, FAITH AND REVOLUTION.

    Here’s one question that I’ll ask you here: what are the best Christian websites or publications for film reviews? Do you have any favorite Christian film critics? Unfamiliar with Christian film critics, my two favorites are A. O. Scott (New York Times) and Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal). Perhaps these questions would make for a helpful blog post.

    • Christopher Benson

      Oops . . . I failed to proofread my comment. That should be HOW TO READ A POEM – not “ream.”

      • shakespeherian

        I would definitely read a Terry Eagleton book called ‘How to Ream a Poem.’

  4. Pingback: Best Films of 2010 | The Search

  5. Christopher Benson

    Brett: Please do me a favor, and explain why “I Am Love” is “essential” viewing for “true fans of the cinematic art form.” I consider myself such a fan, but I didn’t perceive the film was “overflowing with life, depth, beauty, elegance, and originality.” I daresay that you’ve been suckered into confusing fake display food for the real thing. This cannoli is all plastic.

    Presumably the director wants his audience to feel sympathy for Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), who has left her native Russia in order to marry a wealthy Milanese patriarch but suffers from national dislocation and marital neglect. Because I was never convinced of her suffering, I felt little sympathy for a protagonist whose lifestyle permits the idleness to fantasize and sin. She is not awakened to her passion so much as the pleasure of transgressing boundaries: vicariously in her daughter’s lesbian relationship and then later in her adulterous affair with her son’s friend – the young chef.

    Your original instincts about the film were right: “The film’s plot and themes — breaking free from repression, discovering the beauty of life via unbridled passion and transgressive behavior — are at first quite familiar, and disappointingly amoral.” I would go one step further and say “immoral.” Regrettably, you forget these virtuously trained instincts and conclude: “. . . it becomes clear that this is not just another ‘yeah! Infidelity is so freeing!’ sort of film. It’s about much more than that.” To bolster your judgment, you argue: “Most of the ‘more’ this film has to offer is in its generous attention to detail, beauty, and sensual existence” — whether in a gorgeous closeup of a bee pollinating a flower or a macaron from Laduree, or a sprawling shot of cathedral, or the elegantly intense music from composer John Adams.”

    I’m afraid that the form of the film has overwhelmed your better judgment about its content. And let’s not make the mistake of separating content from form; they’re integral. No amount of cinematic beauty can take away from the fact that this story indulges what philosopher Nathan Schlueter calls the heresy of Romanticism: “the impulse to escape, through passionate idealization and fancy, from the real world . . . of suffering and change,” and biological limits. (See his online Touchstone article “The Romance of Domesticity”). “I Am Love” is an inferior reworking of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. That novel contains, according to Schlueter, the “essential pattern” of Romantic escapism, featuring these hallmarks: a disordered imagination, itinerant ambition, consumerist re-invention, and promiscuous desire. Christianity teaches us to see reality as it is – not as we wish it to be. Emma Recchi, much like Emma Bovary, is not finding freedom in her escape but bondage to fantasy and sin.

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