21 06 2010

Back in in November 2009, I partook in several events at the inaugural Houston Cinematic Arts Festival.  As part of the festivities, they brought in Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton to screen her latest movie.  It was so secretive that they only told us the movie’s name in the minutes before they rolled film.  I sat in the front row, even making eye contact once with Swinton and a few times (rather uncomfortably) with the movie’s director, Luca Guadagnino, who also came along for the ride.

Unfortunately, what was to follow this rush of euphoria from being inches away from an illustrious Oscar winner and all of her glory had a completely different feel – the feel of intense disappointment.  Since they didn’t give us any inkling of a clue what the movie would be like, I didn’t know what to expect.  I guess I was anticipating something similar to “Michael Clayton,” the movie that won her Hollywood’s biggest prize.  Usually actors tend to stray towards the roles that win them the most recogntion, but “I Am Love,” the movie that I saw, was about as far away from Hollywood values as humanly possible.  Gone are her days as a “Hollywood spy,” she claims; it’s back to her European roots.

In the discussion session that followed the movie, Swinton took a quote from Hitchcock to describe the style and feel of the movie: “Let the dialogue set the mood and let the pictures tell the story.”  This philosophy of filmmaking is the polar opposite of those that drive “Iron Man 2” and “Sex and the City 2” into the 30-screen theaters.  It’s what brings that niche, art-house crowd to the small theaters that show independent films.  In essence, Swinton’s philosophy is against the basic principles that most Americans hold dear when they go to the movies.  They want to be engaged by the story, not by watching bees pollinate flowers (an image Guadagnino seems to particularly love).

I’m not claiming “I Am Love” to be bringing about some sort of cinematic apocalypse, nor am I claiming it to be as anti-American as hating apple pie and Uncle Sam.  It’s not threatening our country like terrorism or the swine flu.  It’s not going to have any lasting impact because it’s simply not good enough to do anything meaningful, so fear not all of you who were preparing for some sort of an assault on American values.

I went with a friend of mine who is very well-versed in all things film (if you don’t believe me, I’ll flash his acceptance to NYU’s film school as credentials), and by the first hour, he grabbed a piece of paper and began scribbling.  A minute later, he thrust it in my face and I read: “QUESTIONS FOR TILDA: Wait, remind me why I give a s**t about these characters again?”  He summed up “I Am Love” better than I ever could with that one sentence.  It’s a prolonged exercise of boring futility, akin to watching a dying animal slowly breathe its last … for two hours.

There’s that style of filmmaking that is distinctly European, and I’m glad it exists because it has inspired some great works in American cinema.  German Expressionism was largely influential in the careers of Alfred Hitchcock and Tim Burton, and the French New Wave inspired Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese.  So by no means am I trying to say that the European way of filmmaking is inferior or bad; it’s just … different.

“I Am Love” reflects that difference in moviewatching from different sides of the big Atlantic pond.  It’s a movie for people who look at film more like a painting than a movie.  You have to be one of these pompous artsy snobs to enjoy this.  You have to be interested in the precision of the score and the color scheme setting the tone for the movie.  I’ll admit that in some of these aspects, the film isn’t bad.  But director Luca Guadagnino is so preoccupied with these things that he forgets to make the movie interesting.  No, actually, it’s more than that.  He forgets to make the movie good.

Please, please, PLEASE do not be drawn to “I Am Love” only by the shiny, golden allure of Tilda Swinton’s Oscar.  If you know her for the strong, forceful, and somewhat idiosyncratic characters she has played in Hollywood, you will be completely underwhelmed by her subdued and subtle performance here.  Gone is the power she flexed in her mainstream days, replaced with a desire to simply fade into the Italian scenery.  If you do decide to watch the movie, you will see a whole lot of Tilda.  By that, I mean an uncomfortable amount of Tilda in uncomfortable ways (and imagine looking at her from just a few feet away afterwards).

When the credits roll and I walk out of the theater, a movie being good is all I really care about.  That’s my basic concern; everything else is just gravy.  And when a movie isn’t good, I just don’t care about the score or the colors or the camerawork.  Leave appreciation of the technical aspects of a movie to the AMPAS branches; I want to see a movie that is worth my time.

I’m fully expecting a massive backlash to this review.  “The movie is way too over your head,” I’m expecting.  “You’re too young and uncultured to really appreciate cinematic art,” I will be anticipating.  But if you are too sophisticated for a movie to entertain you, then certainly you can appreciate the value of having characters that you can care about and a thought-provoking plot.  Providing neither of these, “I Am Love” fails on even the most basic levels of cinematic necessities.  F /



5 responses

22 06 2010

Damn, that’s a shame. I love Tilda Swinton. She was fantastic in “Julia,” and she picks the strangest and most challenging parts. She has no vanity whatsoever, and I admire that in an actress.

22 06 2010
Encore Entertainment

Interesting, not too big a fan of Tilda actually but I do like European films.

(Any thoughts on a year of Actor for LAMB Casting? Shoot me an email)

22 06 2010

I’m close to having one, hopefully I’ll have one for you before I leave on Saturday.

18 06 2015
The Vern

I will admit this is not one of Tilda’s best work, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say I hated it. I am one of those who can enjoy a movie just for the way it looks. If that lables me as a pompous snob so be it. I would rather look at a beautiful slow imagery for hours over action scenes with multiple cuts. I am jealous you got to be that close to Swinton. I think she is quite beautiful

18 06 2015

She was quite beautiful, in an icy but elegant way. I have a feeling I might react differently now, 5 years later, but even with my knowledge now, I still look back and cringe.

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