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10 April 2010

Love in a Mist

Luca Guadagnino's latest film Io sono l'amore is beautiful--of course it is; that much is obvious from the poster and the fact that it is set in Italy. It is a lyrical film and an intense one. It is often surprising and funny, sad and clever. Tilda Swinton is particularly beautiful and she's also very good; without her strong, central performance, the threads probably wouldn't have held together well enough.

[Usually, I try to keep spoilers to a minimum but there are some below so you should look away now if you don't want to know what happens.]

She plays Emma Recchi, a Russian woman who has married into a a rich Italian dynasty. With her blonde coolness and appearance of perfection, she is the Kirsten Cohen of Milan. Married to Tancredi, the elder son and heir to a textiles millionaire, and mother to the handsome, eager Edoardo and the secretive, sensitive Elisabetta (originally, I thought there was a second son but either Emma comes from the Betty Draper school of parenting or the other guy must have been a cousin), she lives in a large, modern house, complete with servants, a swimming pool and anything else she might desire. She lacks nothing. Or does she?

The film opens with an elegant family dinner at the house to celebrate the grandfather's birthday and his handing over the company to his son Tancredi and his grandson, Edoardo. Elisabetta presents Grandpa with a beautiful photograph she took while they were out walking one day but he is just disappointed that she hasn't done another one of her excellent drawings--Grandpa, it seems, does not like change, as is later evident from his running of the textiles factory. Edoardo, meanwhile, is a running star and the family are surprised to find out he actually came second in his latest race. Later that evening, the guy who beat him, a chef called Antonio, comes to the house. As the dinner was so tense and I had a feeling everything was going to go pear shaped quite quickly, I thought the chef was going to kill Edoardo--and to some extent he does, although not that night and not with a gun or by lacing the cake he brought round for Edoardo with posion.

Instead, we jump forward several months and the two have become friends and even plan to open a restaurant together in the hills above San Remo. Elisabetta, meanwhile, is busy finding herself--and a girlfriend--at Central St Martins. Edoardo marries the beautiul girlfriend he brought to the birthday meal and Tancredi tries to run the company by doing the opposite of what his father would have done, but then he's not around much. Suddenly, it becomes clear that Emma is not happy or satisfied with her seemingly perfect life. She appears to be haunted by events that happened in Russia before she was "saved" by Tancredi. Indeed, we find out later that Emma isn't even her real name; instead it is the name Tancredi gave her although she can't remember her real name, only that her nickname was Kittieth. I suspect he wasn't thinking of Madame Bovary when he came up with that although perhaps the screenwriter was.

Unhappiness and unease duly established, then, Emma's affair is inevitable and giving the paucity of characters in this bourgeois, Milanese universe, Antonio is about the only male around to whom she isn't related. Although he serves posh food in his restaurant, he is still low-class in the eyes of Emma's mother in law when the two eat dinner there one day. Emma is irresistibly attracted to Antonio, however, and is soon making excuses to visit San Remo and then travelling up to Antonio's hilltop farm to make love on the grass and conjure up new recipes.

As a symbol of her newfound sense of freedom and release, she gets him to cut her long, blonde hair to chin length, the long locks that remain on the earth outside the farm later playing their own role in the tragedy that is to come, although not as big a role as the soup. In fact, I've never seen a film where a bowl of soup is indirectly responsible for such a big tragedy without anyone having consumed a single mouthful. You see, although Emma can't remember her real name, she can remember a special fish soup recipe she used to make in Russia. When she was missing home, she would make the soup for Edoardo, the child to whom she is closest. She tells this story to Antonio, thus setting in motion the dramatic events at the end of the film.

The ending is filled with sadness, grief and guilt but, right at the end, there is a brief moment of forgiveness and freedom, love and redemption. The film ends rather abruptly, leaving me craving more--more resolution and more of Swinton's great performance--but, of course, it also seemed to end exactly where it should.

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