Thursday, July 15, 2010


The film done in the style of a lengthy advertisement (slick, sensuous, frequently under threat of becoming just vapid): after a while I've come to realize that I sometimes like this style, a hard fact to face for the part of me that revels in some other austere cinematic traditions & lineages. Nevertheless: Vittorio De Seta's Un uomo a metà, Tom Ford's A Single Man, strains of a few Pere Portabella films (not to mention a few by Godard and Antonioni) ... I remember the first time I watched Fallen Angels by Wong Kar-Wai (on VHS, shortly after I'd seen Chungking Express), and I failed to realize at first that I was watching the trailer for the film, which oddly ran before the feature on the videocassette ... disoriented by the weirdness of the "opening" of the film, I figured that this was what a more advanced cinema looked like.

The vulgarity of advertising might blind some of us to the fact that advertisements - by necessity - need to exercise a lot of skills necessary in the creation of art in order to effectively communicate. Advertisements that "aren't quite art" may often be soulless or what have you, but a lot of times they look & feel something like art because they have so much else in place - traditions, strategies, continuities, short cuts. When a film takes some of these aesthetics and mimics them (often echoing back through cinema what had been cinema originally a few decades before - echoes of perfume ads that echoed Resnais films) it may be tempting to overlook the style, say that it is merely shallow, not bother ourselves to see if it is, instead, both sumptuous/sensuous and efficient, condensed, intelligently abbreviated.

Which brings us to I Am Love / Io sono l'amore (Luca Guadagnino, 2009), about which I'm still working out my opinions. I liked it a great deal but after one viewing I can't tease apart the evidence as to whether it was simply a slick looking experiment, in the style of a fashionable commercial, that I "bought" ... or if it indeed the style looked slick but held multitudes. Was I duped or treated to a luxurious experience? This film seems simple, bare, austere, but also expensive, magnificent, haute. All as it was surely intended on the surface - but it also seems this way in terms of its symbols, its internal references. What hooked me with regard to this 'cool melodrama' is how subtly or obliquely it registers its dramatic lines. Its subject matter includes processes, manners, perceptions. Where does one stand, how loudly is one permitted to sigh or speak, how is a banquet pulled off (and not just from the receiving end), who does one comfort (and how) in the wake of a family tragedy - these gestures are handled, foregrounded, delicately as in a film by Shimizu, Ozu, or certain John Fords (all directors that are in other respects quite alien to I Am Love). And this is precisely why scenes that would seem to play as self-parody instead work in an almost primal way ... in another context, or filmed slightly differently, Tilda Swinton's Sanremo love scene (for instance) would, should induce howls of laughter. But I find it instead comforting and erotic; the scene where her character tells Antonio her childhood name ("Kitesh. Say it.") is heart-wrenching. Thus I'm tempted to say that if so much of cinema is in fact the result of industrialism and commercialism (the content-output of a ravenous machine), at least in a few cases the most brutally consumerist devices have nevertheless provided the cinema, or at least the privileged realm of the art cinema, with some rather beautiful effects ...


Daniel Kasman said...

Hi Zach,

Thanks for these notes, funny they rhyme a bit with what I was thinking too, including the fashion angle:

However, I'd disagree very strongly with this observation: "Its subject matter includes processes, manners, perceptions. Where does one stand, how loudly is one permitted to sigh or speak, how is a banquet pulled off (and not just from the receiving end), who does one comfort (and how) in the wake of a family tragedy - these gestures are handled, foregrounded, delicately..."

I'd say that those things are camera subject and not subjects of the film. They are part of the tableaux, not part of an observation or a documentary. In a sense I'd suggest one doesn't "learn" anything watching the film, and as such the film fails to present its camera subjects as if they were records of "processes, manners" (perceptions is another question, and may be true). Shimizu, Ozu, or Rossellini are all touchpoints, for me, of what I AM LOVE is not doing, that is, being specific, precise, and enmeshed in a world. Everything I saw in this film was of the surface and for the surface--meaning, for example, that a gesture did not come from the observation that someone like this would make a gesture like that in this specific context--and the depth of observation of the behavior or manners I found very shallow indeed.

Jake said...

Art (life) finds a way?

Check this URL:

Audio file #3.

ZC said...

Hi Danny, I've been mulling over your comments for a few days, and I don't know if I can address them very intelligently yet still. But I wonder if the crux of our disagreement could be addressed by this question - 'Is there a notable aesthetic, stylistic, experiential difference between the trailer for this film, and the film itself? If so, what?'

I'm guessing that you would not see a great deal of difference. (Let me know if I'm wrong. And I don't mean this to be snarky or a trick question or anything like that.) I ask because a trailer, of course, is meant to sell something, and part of my loose argument is that this film is utilizing the aesthetics associated with selling things, but not necessarily doing just that. The trailer and the film both have similar editing, a little staccato and off-kilter (the cuts are eminently noticeable in the film, as in the preview) and also plenty of intentionally arresting images (tableaux and other moments in which movement is frozen deliberately - in the mise-ne-scene, not in the lab - to 'increase drama'). But where the significance of this in the trailer is vague, i.e., we get what we need to get as potential consumers (this film is beautiful and luxe and Italian and it boasts Tilda fucking Swinton!), in the movie the ellipses, the starkness of the editing, and the depiction of the familial network are all fleshed out - sketchily but suggestively. What I like in the film and its behavioralisms is how we come to see and feel the family's haughty rejection of Edoardo's bride, for instance; or how the light plays off the beautiful but imperfect bodies in Swinton's love scene in the grass; or the moment where Paolo explains to Edoardo (like a good bourgeois-on-the-rise is meant to do) that his philistine father doesn't "understand" what he does with his gastronomy.

Is it Rossellini or Shimizu? No - it's not as good, and I don't even totally disagree with your distinction in the last paragraph. But I would protest, or at least counter, that the "world" which I Am Love hopes to depict is not a shallow reflection, but instead a rumination on the manufacturing of images, including the image of wealth and the oppressive insinuations of taste. The film doesn't just show pretty, staged tableaux, but each & every time shows that they are being prepared (the parties and dinners...); the family money isn't aristocratic but rather a veneer young enough to be within living memory (the memory of fascism & war profiteering); I feel as though this movie is in a real sense about artifice, and in addition it's about the construction of "new money" into (gradually) "old money" - which is why the family exhibit snobbery, why Swinton's Russian character meets her husband-to-be when he's in her country buying up treasures. This film illuminates, or subtly illustrates, some lines between delicate manners and brute decisions.

Jake, thanks for the link - although I'm a bit skeptical of DFW's immediate identification of country music with "I lost my...", which to me is usually an indication that someone isn't actually listening to contemporary country music but is instead recycling old cliches of what country music is. But I certainly agree: sometimes a great and occasionally underappreciated economy of meaning-making is at work in disreputable, even stale forms.