Mod­ern aris­to­cratic fam­ily finds its world shat­tered by in­fi­delity

Austin American-Statesman - - MOVIES&LIFE - By John De­Fore

So in­tense in its de­pic­tion of mod­ern-day aris­toc­racy that it be­comes some­thing of a lux­ury prod­uct it­self, “I Am Love” reeks of priv­i­lege and wealth. Movie­go­ers with an ounce of class-con­scious­ness might strug­gle with it, won­der­ing whether char­ac­ters who have ev­ery­thing else in the world re­ally need our sym­pa­thy as well. But even­tu­ally the film’s aes­thetic qual­i­ties — the best money can buy — work their magic, car­ry­ing us along with the melo­drama de­spite our­selves.

Set in Mi­lan, the film fea­tures a richer-than-rich clan whose for­tune was made in tex­tiles, and some­thing about the con­tin­ual (al­beit ev­er­taste­ful) name-drop­ping here, with ref­er­ences rang­ing from fashion and mu­sic to the ar­chi­tec­ture firm Her­zog and de Meu­ron, gives it the air of a fea­ture that was ac­tu­ally pro­duced not by sto­ry­tellers but by the haute-de­sign world.

We’re in­tro­duced to the fam­ily at an elab­o­rate birth­day party for its pa­tri­arch, who sets the

Greek-drama tone by an­nounc­ing that he is hand­ing the fam­ily busi­ness over to his grand­son Edo in­stead of to the son who has been ex­pect­ing to run it.

But that in­trigue is petty com­pared with the story’s main con­cern, the bru­tal shift that hap­pens to Edo’s mother (a Rus­sian im­mi­grant who mar­ried into the fam­ily and al­lowed up­per-crust moth­er­hood to de­fine her en­tire per­sona) when she sees her role as a fam­ily-builder be­com­ing less im­por­tant and em­braces a pas­sion­ate af­fair with a younger man.

That woman, Emma, is played by Tilda Swin­ton, who on-screen can of­ten ap­pear to be not an ac­tress but a rare breed of hyper-in­tel­li­gent gazelle, cap­tured on the Serengeti by art-the­ory Ph.D.s and trained to pre­tend to be hu­man. She pre­tends very, very well, but she is not one of us.

Emma falls for a chef who plans to open a res­tau­rant with Edo, and she makes love to him out­doors in scenes sure to arouse the lo­ca­vores and nat­u­ral­ists in the au­di­ence.

She also, of course, trig­gers a fam­ily catas­tro­phe with her in­fi­delity, and one of the key goals in “I Am Love” is ap­par­ently to both rel­ish her erotic rap­ture non­judg­men­tally and milk its tragic reper­cus­sions, which play out in tableaux set to the in­creas­ingly ag­i­tated score of high­brow com­poser John Adams. (That Adams, com­poser of cel­e­brated op­eras, would deign to score the film is a mea­sure of Swin­ton’s sway in the up­per tier of the arts world.)

For all its pas­sion, “I Am Love” re­mains a weirdly cold work, one that is per­haps more spir­i­tu­ally in tune with its above-it-all sub­jects than it in­tends to be. Nev- erthe­less, it makes an im­pres­sion that is hard to ig­nore — par­tic­u­larly for view­ers who don’t rush out be­fore the cred­its, stay­ing to wit­ness the movie’s cryp­tic, eerie fi­nal im­age. Rat­ing: R for sex­u­al­ity, nu­dity. Run­ning time: 2 hours. Theater: Ar­bor.

mag­no­lIa pIc­tures

Tilda Swin­ton and Mattia Zac­caro play mem­bers of a rich fam­ily.

mag­no­lia pic­tures

Emma (Tilda Swin­ton, left) and Elis­a­betta (Alba Rohrwacher) are part of a fam­ily sur­rounded by priv­i­lege and plea­sure, but some­times that’s not enough.

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