For all those naysayers who claim "they just don't make 'em like they used to" (of which I am certainly and undeniably one!) they should spend 2 hours watching Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love - because I cannot think of a better refute to such a statement (however usually accurate it may very well be!) in recent memory. From the very opening moments, seemingly locked in a snow covered cinematic memory reminiscent of latter-day Visconti, to the deliriously sublime climax that plays like an amphetamine-induced Antonioni, I Am Love is the very epitome, the poster child if you will, of the way "they used to make 'em".
Succulent and delectable (the critic raves! the critic gushes!), I Am Love is, beyond just being reminiscent of the way "they used to make 'em", but stands on its own cinematic legs as a gloriously grand motion picture on the scale of something epic, something operatic (the critic hyperbolizes!!). Guadagnino has created something that surpasses mere storytelling - though there is of course that as well - and takes us on a visual odyssey in much the same way many of the great auteurs of the past have. Loosely inspired by Visconti's grand masterpiece (one of several from the auteur actually!) The Leopard, I Am Love symbolizes the decay of family - and in turn, of society - and does so through the grandeur of sumptuous image after sumptuous image. Images that incite everything from repulsion to rapture - sometimes in the very same scene or shot (the orgasmic devouring of a plate of prawns in a restaurant comes to mind immediately).
Yet, no matter how deliriously Guadagnino paints his film - and he does it with the stroke of an artist who feels colour rather than sees colour - it is the central performance of Tilda Swinton that takes this film from visual splendifory to near masterpiece, as well as a powerful treatise on the subconscious yearning for sexual release. Swinton, easily one of the most dynamic - and in keeping with the style of Guadagnino's work, operatic - of actors working today, pulls off yet another performance for the ages (again, the critic raves, gushes and hyperbolizes!!). Swinton plays her part as if a grand tragic heroine, such as Bovary or Lady Macbeth,, and even though it is quite melodramatic at times (but when can something rightfully be described as operatic if it were not also quite melodramatic!?), her performance is full of raw, naked energy that also makes her seem rather scared and vulnerable.
Swinton has a strange sex appeal to her that at times, seems quite alien - one would not be at all surprised to see her, post-coital, lying behind Captain Kirk as he pulls on his boots and goes about his appointed five year mission - and it is this very same alien sex appeal that makes her performance fit in beautifully with such a visual bizarre, albeit stunningly so, film as this. Playing the Russian-born wife and mother to an Italian bourgeois family (Swinton actually learned to speak Italian AND with a Russian accent!), Swinton's character is too an alien of sorts. Never quite fitting in, never quite a true member of the family (though still deeply loved by her family) Swinton's character is an outsider of sorts (and once she releases her unspent sexual desires on her son's best friend - and almost non-entity to said family), and it is in this outsider capacity that Swinton, complete with alien sex appeal, fits the role perfectly - and the film fits her as well.
So, for all those aforementioned naysayers who claim "they just don't make 'em like they used to" (of which I was certainly and undeniably one!) you would do well to watch I Am Love, and be proven (like I most certainly and undeniably was) wrong. And since I cannot seem to get the words right about my feelings for this luscious film (other than to gush like a school girl!) I will end with the words of fellow compatriot Melissa Anderson from the Village Voice: "As unrepentantly grandiose and ludicrous as its title, Luca Guadagnino's visually stunning third narrative feature suggests an epic Visconti and Sirk might have made after they finished watching Vertigo and reading Madame Bovary while gorging themselves on aphrodisiacs." To Mr. Guadagnino, just one word - bravissimo. [07/19/10]