I Am Love: Flawed masterpiece

Posted by RDN under Mind & body / On movies on 28 April 2010

For long stretches of I Am Love, I was bowled over in much the way I imagine the movie-makers intended. It had risible patches which didn’t quite shake the wheels off the wagon.

We open as a grand Recchi family dinner is being prepared in a Fascist-style, 30s villa of great Milanese severity. Instantly, the seriousness, the portentousness, of Milan – its northern-ness, its spiritual heritage, its being an honorary member of the Hanseatic league – was brushing with its being one of the fashion Valhallas. With some of  the Fendi family as muses if not more, the movie ought to have got much of this stuff right, but for all that I was enraptured I was not wholly convinced. It was striking how the servants were so formal, as though in a restaurant, except for the housekeeper whose familial role was beautifully etched throughout.

I half hope the top echelon of Milenese business society is of this sort, in its seriousness and elegance, and even its connectedness. The lesbian daughter was splendidly done: punky, wry in dissidence. It’s a pity that the movie’s main message was about the necessity to escape from bourgeois constraints as though these were nowadays of the sort more common to an Edith Wharton story.   

This was a foody movie, but in a family setting, so rather more Babbette’s Feast or Joy Luck Club than Bella Martha or Big Night. I say that: the big love story really gets going when the chatelaine falls for the chef in his father’s restaurant.

Things do get strikingly potty in the open air love-making scene, which made me think of Elvira Madigan, an effort which I haven’t seen for several decades but which remains the byword of pretentiousness. The loving couple’s behaviour thereafter seemed to swing into melodrama rather than anything more closely observed or accurate or ordinarily convincing.

Never mind my whingeing: the look of the thing, Swinton’s central performance, and many of the conceits were ravishing.

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