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I Am Love(2009)
A tragic love story set at the turn of the millennium in Milan. The film follows the fall of the haute bourgeoisie due to the forces of passion and unconditional love
For more about I Am Love and the I Am Love Blu-ray release, see I Am Love Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on October 10, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbono
Director: Luca Guadagnino
» See full cast & crew
I Am Love Blu-ray Review
Carnal, culinary, and sometimes both.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 10, 2010
Midway through I Am Love, a sumptuous turn-of-the-millennium drama from Italian director Luca Guadagnino, there comes a flash of culinary transcendence, what you might call the film's Ratatouille moment. Tilda Swinton, playing Emma Recchi, the Russian-born wife of an extravagantly wealthy Milanese textile magnate, is dining at a posh restaurant with the past and future of her family—her mother-in-law (Marisa Berenson, of Visconti's Death in Venice) and soon-to-be daughter-in-law. The waiter brings a dish of glistening, oil-covered prawns, sensually arranged. As Emma slices a shrimp open and takes her first bite, the world dims around her and she's bathed in an isolating glow of golden light. Her face registers a complex combination of awe, emotional awakening, and knee-buckling, nearly orgasmic pleasure. In this instant, her character changes; she gives up her staid, tradition-bound role as housewife/heiress, and gives in to the volcanic passion she feels toward the culinary mastermind behind this seafood platter—a half-her-age chef, a sensitive soul who also happens to be her son's best friend. Like the film as a whole, the moment is melodramatic, yes, but decadently delicious all the same.
The film's opening establishes the haute bourgeoisie world into which Emma has married. At the plush Recchi estate, preparations are being made for a formal family reunion dinner celebrating the birthday of the clan's aging patriarch (Gabriele Ferzetti), Emma's father-in-law, an entrepreneur who used fascism to his benefit during wartime, building a textile empire on the backs of Jews pressed into service. As Emma bustles about, detailing the seating arrangements and overseeing the work of the servants toiling in the kitchen—seeming more like an event organizer than a member of the family—the rest of the Recchis recline and catch-up in the mansion's opulently gilded rooms. The talk is of her son, Edo (Flavio Parenti), who lost a regatta race that day. His grandpa teases him, but the underlying message seems to be that the Recchis should never—ever— lose. Disappointment in his grandson notwithstanding, the old man stands up during dinner and announces that control of the family business shall pass to Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), Emma's dour husband, and young Edo. "It'll take two men to replace me," he says with no small amount of self-satisfaction. Later, the winner of the regatta, local chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), drops by with a cake he's baked for Edo as a conciliatory gesture. It's here that Edo gains a friend and Emma first meets her future paramour.
What follows is an examination of both the complicated familial relationships of the upper crust, and Emma's slow awakening to simple sensuality, which eventually involves a wholesale shedding of the materialism that has encrusted her like barnacles since marrying in to the Recchis. The catalyst for this is when she finds a love note confirming that her daughter Betta (Alba Rohrwacher), an artist off studying in London, is a closeted lesbian. In Betta's unexpected sexuality, Emma sees a model for her own transformation, and when Betta returns to Italy with a boyish haircut, it's inevitable that Emma's own long blond locks are soon to be shorn in defiance. She is expected to be prim, proper—a lifeless trophy wife set among Tancredi's other prized possessions—and the Recchi estate, with its heavy sliding doors, seems more like a prison than a home. When we see Tancredi slipping gold rings onto Emma's fingers before the party, we get the sense that, in essence, he's shackling her.
But this is all before that life-altering dish of prawns, which frees her, opening Emma's mind, body, and taste buds to all manner of sensual possibilities. Soon, she's alone with Antonio in his rundown rustic getaway in the mountains. He removes the rings from her fingers—as symbolic a gesture as any—and they make love, first on a mattress on the floor of the disarrayed cabin, so distanced from the tidy lavishness of the Recchi home, and then outdoors for a literal roll in the hay. While the camera roams over the lovers' bug-bitten, goose-bumped, sun-burned bodies, we're intermittently shown close-ups of insects busily pollinating flowers. The metaphor is over-obvious but apt: Emma and Antonio are now one with the natural world. Of course, this illicit affair—along with Emma's drastically altered outlook—is not without its complications, which I won't spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that the Recchi family is shaken by the ensuing events, and we're shaken with them, moved through tragedy to an intense emotional catharsis set to John Adams' frantically anxious score.
While it would be patently untrue to say the watched pot of I Am Love never boils, the film certainly takes its time heating up, and this may put off audiences expecting a more mainstream romance. Fans of European cinema, however, will fall in easily with the film's unhurried pacing, which allows us to soak in the sights of cinematographer Yorick Le Seux's lush cinematography. The film owes much of its storytelling aesthetic to the titans of Italian cinema of the 1960s and '70s—most notably Luchino Visconti in the dissection of upper-class crisis and Michelangelo Antonioni, for the themes of detachment, social alienation, and ennui—and although writer/director Luca Guadagnino doesn't cover new narrative ground, he lavishes I Am Love with style. Icons Jill Sander and Fendi provided the costumes, the set design is immaculate, and despite a dénouement that values passion over fashion, so to speak, the film has glamour in spades. Most impressive, though, is Tilda Swinton, who gives the performance of her career. She learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent for the role—no easy task, I'm sure—and you completely forget within the first few minutes that she's an English actress. More so, her transformation of Emma from a stolid hausfrau—basically, just another piece of gilded furniture in the Recchi home—to an uninhibited woman following her desires, wherever they may lead her, is convincing and nuanced. Who knew prawns could be so potent?
I Am Love Blu-ray, Video Quality
For all of I Am Love's lushness, the film's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is somewhat dull, neither as sharp nor as colorful as you might expect. Clarity is very much mixed; this is undeniably a high definition production—detail is much stronger than anything you'd see on DVD—but overall, the image isn't quite as resolved as most contemporary releases. Slight softness pervades many scenes, and even close-ups lack the finest details, like skin texture, that you're used to seeing in other modern films. Color is rather realistic and neutral, with only a few instances of obvious post-production tonal tweaking—like the yellowish cast when Emma meets Betta at the train station. There are flashes of bright color—a tangerine dress, yellow pollen, green grass—but the film's palette is largely restrained. Black levels are a bit hazy, especially in darker scenes, and contrast is weak, resulting in an image without much pop. All that said, I didn't see the film theatrically, so I can't make any comparisons, but I suspect the relative flatness of the image is mostly due to the way the movie was shot—that is, the lenses, film stocks, and lighting conditions that were used—and not any fault of this high definition transfer. After all, I Am Love had nowhere near the budget of typical Hollywood drama. As for the transfer and encode—the print is clean, grain looks natural, and there are no overly apparent compression problems.
I Am Love Blu-ray, Audio Quality
If there's one standout element to I Am Love's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, it's John Adams' fantastic score, which builds, over the course of the film, to a roaring crescendo at the narrative climax. The music—which often spreads throughout all channels—is rich and dynamically rounded, with satisfying low-end presence, a punchy midrange, and highs that are clear without being shrill. Outside of the score, the track delivers exactly what you'd hope for in a family drama—clean, effortlessly prioritized dialogue, and an attempt to fill the soundstage with environmental ambience. The rear channel output isn't as involving as it could be, but you'll hear the drizzle of rain in a cemetery, the bustle of the servants coming and going within the house, chirping birds and flitting insects, train station chatter, and even the hush of snowfall mingling with distant traffic sounds. All the aspects of the film's audio—the score, the dialogue, the sound effects—are balanced and come together well for an engaging listening experience. English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are available in easy-to-read white lettering.
I Am Love Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary with Director Luca Guadagnino and Tilda Swinton
Swinton and Guadagnino's collaboration on I Am Love goes back 11 years, when they first began planning a story that Guadagnino describes as "Visconti on acid." Their conversation here is endlessly informative and more thematically based than most commentary tracks, with lots of talk of the characters' motivations and the ideas present within the film, along with the usual on-set anecdotes and production details.
Moments on the Set of I Am Love (SD, 14:33)
Straight up behind-the-scenes footage, highlighting some of the beautiful locations, and with some brief interviews with Swinton and others.
Interviews with the Cast and Crew (SD, 1:10:36)
Includes extensive interviews with Luca Guadagnino (Director), Tilda Swinton (Emma Recchi), Alba Rohrwacher (Elisabetta Recchi), Diana Fieri (Eva Ugolini), Edoardo Gabbriellini (Antonio Biscaglio), Gabriele Ferzetti (Edoardo Recchi, Sr.), Flavio Parenti (Edoardo Recchi, Jr.), Marisa Berenson (Allegra Recchi), Mattia Zaccaro (Gianluca Recchi), Pippo Delbono (Tancredi Recchi), and Silvia Venturini Fendi (Producer/Stylist).
Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2:09)
Also from Magnolia Home Entertainment Blu-ray (1080p, 6:28)
Includes trailers for Ondine, The Extra Man, and The Oxford Murders, along with a promo for HDNet.
I Am Love Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Some viewers might understandably find I Am Love longwinded and overly ornate, perhaps even pretentious, but those attuned to a more European arthouse mindset will appreciate the film's slow cinematic burn, its attention to emotional nuance, and its indebted homage to Italian greats like Antonioni and Visconti. One thing we can probably all agree on is that Tilda Swinton gives the greatest—and most vulnerable—performance of her career here, letting her typically icy demeanor, that of Narnia's White Witch, for example, thaw into something sensual and raw. Recommended!
I Am Love Blu-ray, News and Updates
• I Am Love Blu-ray Announced - August 9, 2010
Magnolia Home Entertainment has announced I Am Love (Io sono l'amore) for Blu-ray release on October 12. This Italian film about a bourgeois family in turn-of-the-century Europe, starring Tilda Swinton, featured at the Sundance, Berlin, Venice and Toronto film ...
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