Friday, 16 April 2010

'I Am Love' review, plus the new (and last?) Splendor podcast...

Regular readers (hello mum and dad) may have noticed that this blog has not really been updated with its usual frequency in the last week or so. This has been due to my work for Obsessed With Film, for whom I interviewed Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and reviewed their latest film 'Cemetery Junction'. During that time I saw 'I Am Love', but have only just been able to take the time to review it here. It is a bit shorter than my usual reviews on here, but I wanted to get something down before I forgot everything about the film! On a seperate note: there is a new Splendor Cinema podcast up in the player at the side of this blog. It is labelled episode seven because whilst the 'Kick-Ass' episode got put up on iTunes, it was the victim of a staff holiday at the Picturehouse site and so seems to have been passed by. When the latest episode appears on iTunes it will (correctly) be number eight.

And number eight, in which Jon and I tackle the subject of the future of cinema and of piracy, may well be the last Splendor Cinema podcast... ever. But have no fear gentle listener! We are re-branding it the "Obsessed With Film" podcast and it will continue in the same vein, but hopefully reaching a larger audience. So keep on listening.

Anyway, here is the 'I Am Love' review:

‘I Am Love’ is an Italian film produced by (and starring) Tilda Swinton and directed by Luca Guadagnino. According to Swinton the film was conceived in part as a tribute to filmmakers “whose claim on the development of the cinematic language is unassailable”. ‘I Am Love’ is apparently “an attempt to honour this kind of bravado” from these great artists who so advanced film as an art form. But whereas the works of Hitchock, Huston and Kubrick (three of the filmmakers cited as influences) were always constructed to appeal to an audience and to provide entertainment, ‘I Am Love’ is content to pander to an art house crowd who will no doubt call it “a sumptuous and sublime work” and will remind us that “Swinton is superb!”. Guadagnino and Swinton may feel that they have paid a tribute to the greats in terms of their execution of the cinematic form as a “toolkit” (again Swinton’s words), but none of the excitement of ‘North by Northwest’ or ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or ‘A Clockwork Orange’ can be felt in this formal exercise in pretension.

Some individual scenes are truly excellent. The film expertly evokes the feeling of a late summer afternoon, with especially beautiful sunlit scenes depicted on Yorick Le Saux’s camera. Le Saux also worked with Swinton on ‘Julia’ and it is easy to see why she would have asked him back for this project: the cinematography is faultless. Similarly evocative is John Adams operatic score, which lends a level of grandeur to the occasion and renders the films visual elegance audible. I would also say that some key scenes and moments did affect me, with one of the film’s key revelations occurring in a purely visual way – surely the mark of the purest kind of cinema. Furthermore, I enjoyed the way in which Edo (Swinton’s favourite son) subtly mirrors his father (and the whole family) in his treatment of women throughout the film and also how the daughter’s homosexuality (an early plot development) is treated with tenderness and real love.

However, despite these admirable qualities the film generally kept me at arms length throughout. It feels like more of a showcase for Tilda Swinton’s undoubted talent, rather than a story that needed to be told. There was one brief chase sequence that alluded to the Hitchcockian influence with it’s pacing and sense of urgency. But the rest of film moves at a wearying pace, as the filmmakers hope that the undoubted visual splendor will keep you hooked. Long, well-composed shots of people sitting around nicely-lit tables can only hold my attention for so long and as early as twenty minutes into the films two hours I found myself bored, however much I really want to admire and applaud anyone who so earnestly celebrates the cinematic.

I can see how, in the age of ‘Transformers 2’ and ‘The Bounty Hunter’, this sort of ambitious and self-indulgent cinema might appeal to those who hunger for something with a bit of substance. But for me, ‘I Am Love’ is an example of the opposite extreme, for as much as ‘Transformers’ is so brazenly artless, ‘I Am Love’ is an example of art for arts sake - which to my mind is ultimately just as artless in the final analysis. Great art doesn’t (or shouldn’t) primarily aspire to be art. ‘I Am Love’ certainly sings of its artiness from the well-lit rooftops of its many splendid Milanese villas. But then maybe it is only fitting that a film entitled ‘I Am Love’ should be so enamored with itself.

'I Am Love' is still playing across the UK in selected screens, including Brighton's own Duke of York's Picturehouse. It is rated '15' by the BBFC.

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