If you lament that Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous devolved into The Real Housewives of New Jersey; if you watch the Food Channel and salivate over airbrushed food; if you read Vanity Fair, Avenue and the Thursday Style section of the NYT - your film to see is I Am Love. From the opening scenes of a snowy Milan and the gorgeous villa whose chilly inhabitants are adumbrated by the precipitous weather, to the lush furnishings, clothes, hairstyles, plants, textiles, boardrooms, table-settings, meals and music - you are in the element of super-rich indulgence. Even the omnipresent cadre of uniformed servants move elegantly through their appointed tasks, overseen by a major domo who is clad in classic matron chic. But what is so mouth-watering to view is less palatable to swallow and digest.
Essentially, I Am Love is a contemporary spin of Sleeping Beauty in which the beautiful mother, played by Tilda Swinton, has been sleepwalking through her gilded life, awaiting the arousal of a romantic artist to awaken her to passionate, physical and emotional love. The details of how this happens would appear on a storyboard as hitting every overworked cliche of the day: lesbianism, corporate raiders, the demise of family, the sterility of the upper class, the disregard for tradition, the rising presence of Eastern culture in western boardrooms, the price one pays for violating those inhibiting rules of the game and above all, the prevailing mantra to find your core identity and follow your bliss.
Tilda plays a Russian woman who has married into a grand Italian family (think Missoni, Prada, Pucci) where she is known as Emma and no longer remembers her Russian name or who she really is. After meeting her son’s athletic competitor who is also a creative chef, she falls in love, gets rid of her pantyhose and her headband and allows her lover to cut her hair - ah those ties that bind! Freed from her artificial life, she is able to recreate the special photogenic fish soup that her grandmother taught her to make which looks like precious colored stones in aspic but has the guttural name of ucha. Unfortunately,this shimmering food choice has disastrous consequences for the entire family and I’ll give you a hint that it’s more serious than acid reflux. Grief and powerful music follow.
My favorite scene occurs when Tilda has run away from a rainy funeral and is chased by her stodgy husband who looks for her in what is either a Russian church or mausoleum. He sees her shoes in the middle of the ornate marble floor and recognizes that they are hers. Of course they are - who else in the movie has feet this large? Tilda towers over everyone including former model/socialite Marisa Berenson who is supposed to be her mother-in-law but has been so surgically puffed and buffed that she looks like her younger, sillier sister.
I won’t pretend I didn’t enjoy watching I Am Love - it’s a sensual delight. It’s also proof that Americans don’t hold the copyright on junk food or heavy-handed sob stories. The director wants you to empathize with the liberation of Emma but a more apt reference to what happens is the Americanization of Emma-ly as Tilda learns from her lesbian daughter that the way to gain spiritual nirvana is with a trendy haircut, some butch clothes and hooking up with a sensitive gay or much younger guy. Cool.
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