Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guadagnino’s I Am Love

For the opulently wealthy Recchi family, life in Milan truly is La Dolce Vita. However, it is also a life of quiet desperation for Emma Recchi, until a chance encounter awakens her deepest emotions in Luca Guadagnino’s exquisitely crafted I Am Love (trailer here), which opens in New York this Friday.

Emma Recchi married into her life of wealth and privilege. In the process, she has forsaken her Russian heritage, adopting a properly Italian identity as befitting a Recchi. She is a loving mother and a reasonably devoted wife, but as her grown children leave to pursue their lives, hers becomes increasingly empty. As Love opens, she is busy overseeing the caterers during the Recchis’ birthday celebration for their elderly patriarch, Edoardo Sr. To their collective shock, rather than naming his son (Emma’s husband) Tancredi as his sole successor, old man Edoardo stipulates a power-sharing arrangement between his long-time presumptive heir and grandson Edo Jr.

Obviously, this significantly changes their family dynamics, so when Emma Recchi meets Edo Jr’s friend Antonio in passing that night, she hardly suspects the important role he will play in her life. She certainly made an impression of him though. Planning to open his own restaurant with Edo Jr, the much younger chef happens to run into Emma in Sanremo, the picturesque town on the Italian Riviera. This time the attraction is mutual and overwhelming, but their affair will have consequences.

While Love consists of the thoroughly tangled intimate relationships one might expect from a Cassavetes film, stylistically it is the exact opposite. Visually it soars and sweeps, dazzling the audience with its grand panoramas and glossy sheen. It is bravura work from cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, but it has the effect of keeping the characters at arm’s length from the audience.

However, as a self-consciously operatic film, Guadagnino rather brilliantly uses the music of Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Adams to convey the tumultuous emotions buried beneath the Recchis’ icy reserve. Though often described as a minimalist, his excerpted themes have a pronounced romanticism that perfectly matches the film’s luxurious visual texture.

As the film’s emotional center, Tilda Swinton subtly expresses Emma’s longing and regrets, despite Guadagnino’s maelstrom of imagery. Indeed, she would well relate to The Bridges of Madison County, if it were not so tacky and middlebrow. It is a finely calibrated performance that holds the audience riveted, carrying the emotive load throughout the film.

Truly the work of a daring auteur, Love is the sort of film that needs time to sink in. Yet, the effect of Guadagnino’s artistry (with vital contributions from Le Saux and Adams) is so immediate and powerful, it inspires slack-jawed awe. A rich feast for the senses, the accomplished Love opens this Friday (6/18) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza and Sunshine Cinema.