Tuesday, 13 April 2010

i am love (d&w luca guadagnino)

It's a while now since I spent much time in Italy. A country with which I developed a strange, sometimes ambivalent relationship. My theory, which is probably not original, is that as a country it realised a long time ago what life was all about. Having got its empire building out of the way early, its people collectively took stock and decided that they lived in possibly the most beautiful country on the planet, with potentially the finest cuisine in the universe, and arguably the best looking boys and girls in the galaxy. In other words, all the things that really mattered in life were already to hand. Over the centuries they have their occasional moments of aberration, and they also have a keen awareness of the relationship between wealth and power which can help in the acquisition of even more beauty and even finer food, but essentially it's an introspective culture. With so much within reach it has no need to go looking elsewhere.

Generalisations along national lines are, of course, invidious, flawed and potentially dangerous. Which doesn't mean they're going to stop being made. Nowhere more so than in art. Guadagnino's film, for which words such as sumptuous or operatic might have been invented, seems pre-eminently Italian. Quite apart from the impeccable attention to interiors, costume and design; the measured use of both cityscape and landscape; the elegant looks of its attractive cast; the leading lady, Tilda Swinton, falls for a chef, in large part seduced by his way with a prawn. Food is an art too, and it seems completely appropriate that Emma should fall for Antonio's sensibilities as communicated through his lunchtime menu, deliberately chosen to impress.

All this implies a case of style over substance, a criticism easy to make of an introspective culture. However, Guadagnino directs with a concern to ensure that his audience do more than merely gawp at his pretty pictures. Swinton herself is not actually Italian, but Russian (somehow cleverer than her being English, for reasons too complex to explore here), someone who has learnt to be as Italian if not more so than the Italians themselves, so much so she claims to have forgotten her Russian name. This allows the script some leverage to break away from its Italian-ness, to step back and comment on the way the culture runs the risk of becoming solipsistic. In addition, there's a subplot about the the family business being sold out within a new, borderless world of capital, which threatens to render nationality (and tradition and even loyalty) meaningless. There may be something pretentious about this strand, with its echoes of The Godfather, but it is indicative of a filmmaker seeking to be bold, to explore the themes that underpin the aesthetics and beliefs upon which the world of the film would appear to be founded, aesthetics and beliefs that lead to Emma's eventual expulsion/ flight from the family bosom.

I Am Love isn't scared to run the risk of being flawed, (the final sequence seems oddly melodramatic, like something out of a Colombian telenovela), but that's an indication of its ambition. Whilst a beautiful film, its also a meditation upon a culture of beauty, which is perhaps the superficial of the world, rather than the essential. (Don't tell Keats). Its boldness extends to its cinematography and its editing, which seeks by and large not to dwell on the scenarios its created, but throw them away, in so doing imparting a lack of reverence which counteracts all the careful composition of the director's screen, and breathes life into something which could so easily have been moribund, seemingly just for show.

No comments: