I Am Love review by Tom Blain
Maybe because it is because I am in the middle of reading Camera Politica now, I am inclined to give I Am Love a heavily political reading. Or maybe it's just because its so obvious and blatantly political that I just can't resist, but I am Love feels more at place with 1960s radical feminism than it does with the current decade.
The Recchi Family is established in the first 1/2 hour, i.e. the winter scene, as being a very traditional, old guard family. They are wealthy due to a family textile business that extends back for generations. The Recchis home is an enormous mansion in Milan that is run by maids and cooks. At the head of the family is the patriarchal Edoardo Sr. (Gabrielle Farzetti). He runs the business and also runs the family. The film opens during his birthday celebration, and during the celebration he announces that he is stepping down as head of his business and handing it over to his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and grandson Edoardo Jr (Flavio Parenti). As he puts it, it takes two to replace him. How true it is. One more thing he states is that the two must keep the business together and must keep it within the family. He might as well have been talking about keeping the family together, as the family and business are on parallel lines and connected like ties in a railroad.
Emma (Tilda Swinton) is a Tancredi's beautiful wife who comes dressed and prepared for her role as wife and hostess. Their daughter, Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher), is cut from the same cloth or so it seems in the winter scene. She looks almost identical to her mother, with her dark almost black eyes and long blonde or strawberry blonde locks. They are the traditional mother and daughter, ready to pose for a blue-blood nobility family portrait. Edoardo is also the typical son; young and eager to carry on the Recchi traditions in business and eventually in marriage.
The movie moves forward six months, and we find that Milan has shed the dark and gloomy winter for a bright, reborn summer; foreshadowing many changes and rebirths within the Recchi family. Edoardo Sr. has passed on and his son and grandson are now in charge of the business (and also the family as it were). But it is painfully obvious that they are ill-suited to perform with the same 'leadership'. Tancredi quickly sets in motion a sale of the company to the British. Edoardo Jr. is appalled. He still clings to his grandfathers wishes and just maybe sees a greater future with the company than his father; afterall he has more future in front of him. Nevertheless he is powerless to stop the sale. His sister Betta, goes off to London for a year to practice her art. In the meantime, she cuts her hair short and starts dressing in boots instead of high heals. Her mother finds out through a note intended for Edoardo that Betta is a lesbian and has some trouble dealing with this.
While the breaking of family traditions is at the core of I am Love, the movie's focus is really on Emma's transformation. She is married and seems happy enough in marriage. Everything is managed for her as 'the help' takes care of the cooking and cleaning. She doesn't even have to think about dressing herself in the morning; that's someone else's job. But she begins falling for her son's chef-friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini); a much younger man. At first she falls in love with his cooking. She can't get him out of her mind. Eventually she puts herself in a position to have a chance encounter with him outside of Milan and soon she and the chef begin having an affair at a farm house in hilly countryside. A graphic Adam-and-Eve-like love scene shows the two making love in nature, rolling around in the grass and sun. The scene is intercut with shots of bees and flowers being pollinated to enhance the effect of her entrance back to nature. Antonio even cuts her hair short; not as short as her daughter but still short but still enough to blur her traditional lady-like appearance. Not the first time you could consider Tilda Swinton androgynous.
So all of this radical change is set into motion. A strong feminist swing occurs during the Milanese summer within the family, but in the end, I fail to understand the purpose of the final events of the film (if you don't want to know, just stop reading now). To further emphasize the futility and weakness of the men in the Recchi family, the business is sold to a company in London revealing that the father is not passionate enough and the son is not strong enough to keep the grandfather's affairs in order. This also leads to the breakdown of male dominated traditions within the family itself. The revealing of Emma's affair causes Edoardo Jr to run off and eventually injure himself fatally (the mothers affair with the son's friend indirectly causes the son's death). In the finale, the mother changes from her formal clothes into running clothes, trades some sort of strong glance with her daughter (who acknowledges and accepts what she is about to do) and runs out of the house to live in the country with her boyfriend leaving her family, high society, money, behind her. All of this is done with a heavily orchestrated sound track building up tension and emotion.
I'm left to ask questions about the purpose of her actions and what they mean with respect to the overall theme of the film. Is the point to show that an older woman can run away with a younger man? Usually in this case the filmmakers will go out of their way to paint her husband as abusive, cheating, a horrible human being, etc. But in I Am Love Tancredi is never shown to be anything but a perfectly decent guy. He obviously lacks the strength and passion of his father; the latter possibly being the answer I'm looking for. But what puzzles me is how Emma is putting her family so dismissively behind her? Especially after her relationship lead to the death of her son? Does his death (or at least the unveiling of the affair to him before he died) enable her to take off with Antonio? It did seem like the one pawn that needed to fall for her to leave, but a cruel one at that.
As I mentioned before this film had some shades of liberal leaning films of the late 60s and early 70s. Themes of returning to nature, destruction of traditional family roles, and feminine power grabs were all very prevalent in the I Am Love, but these actions took place at the expense of family health and the feelings of loved ones. Maybe it's all seen in the end as collateral damage for the greater purpose (true love... err lust?) but it does seem like a steep price to pay.
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I Am Love
IMDB Link: I Am Love
DVD Relase Date: 2010-10-12
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