Tilda Swinton in Love
Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan’s column on movies runs every two weeks. Mary Burgan is a retired professor of English and association executive. Her previous reviews are listed at the end of this post.
I Am Love is a film that tends to divide its viewers. My spouse really loved it, and I found it pretentious and boring. But then, such is my conjugal devotion, I decided to go back over my first impression and rethink the film.
I Am Love is certainly worth seeing, if only for the color and sweep of its melodrama. Color, because the film dwells on the richness of the material world–dress, food, and especially eye-level grasses with insects and breezes.
The latter form the setting for a prolonged love-making scene between the matron Emma Recchi (played by Tilda Swinton) and her son’s best friend. The closeness of the camera’s observation can take your mind off the question of how uncomfortable such a roll in the hay might be–lumpy, scratchy, and stingy. And the intensity of Emma’s desire, long repressed, carries not only that scene, but the entire movie.
I Am Love is essentially an opera, and operas rarely stop to think about such things as discomfort in love-making or craziness in plot. It is interesting that the pulsing music of the modernist John Adams punctuates I Am Love, and the film derives its title from the final measures of the aria “La Mama Morta” from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. Emma hears this as she watches the American film Philadelphia on Italian television.
Emma’s charmless husband turns off the television, but he cannot stop the headlong plunge of his wife into a forbidden love that tears his wealthy family, its conflicted children, and its business interests apart. All of that sub-plotting seems inessential, however, rendered so by the compelling face of Tilda Swinton in love.
This British actress might seem miscast in a passionate film like I Am Love. Her presence before the camera has almost always been cool and remote. The camera loves her high cheekbones, fair hair and eyebrows, alabaster skin, and steady gaze, she seems like a strangely beautiful creature from the far north, commanding a movie with her essential cool.
The first film I ever saw her in was Sally Potter’s wonderfully fabulous version of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1992), a fantastic novel I never expected to see as a movie. Swinton managed the time-traveling man/woman role in that gender-bending film, which has been re-released (and had a short run at E Street last month).
I kept looking for Swinton after Orlando, but she didn’t play importantly in an American released movie until 2001, when she starred in a wonderful, small thriller called The Deep End.
After that, I kept mistaking the Australian ice queen Cate Blanchette for Swinton. They both have similar coloring, for example. Blanchette looked like Swinton when she played Elizabeth in the 1996 movie. And I got totally confused when Blanchette played the ice elf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, while Swinton played a similarly icy but completely perverse Jadis, the White Witch, in Disney’s Narnia movies.
In the last half decade Swinton has been branching out into American movies. And she is always worth watching for that face that the camera fastens upon. She gazes into the camera, and the remoteness of her beauty seems untouched, except that she has the uncanny ability to convey fear and panic, as well as love, just beneath the surface. She rarely smiles or weeps, but her face somehow portrays deep, deep passion that threatens to disrupt everything around her. She is always a woman on the edge.
So go see Tilda Swinton either in panic as the corporate lawyer in Michael Clayton, her Oscar award-winning role of 2007, or in disdain in Burn After Reading (2008). I’m not including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) because I think that was such a dumb movie.
And then if you want to see my thesis about her shattered, check out Julia (2008). There Swinton plays a lost and befuddled alcoholic who tries to kidnap the grandson of a rich industrialist. No cool there; she’s all smoking, staggering, slurring her obscene speech, and showing a little fondness for the kid. The movie is too much like a very long hangover, but Swinton carries it all the way.
Other Reviews by The Borderstan Movie Fan
- Breaking Away: Going-to-College Movies
- “Inception” Doesn’t Measure Up to “The Matrix”
- Books to Movies: Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy”
- A Bastille Day Salute: 10 French Films to See
- Mary Reviews Movies About Fathers
- Borderstan Movie Fan Explains Indie Flicks
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Favorites from Argentina, Brazil
- Borderstan Movie Fan: “Alice” and “The Secret of Kells”
- Mary’s Favorite (and Not So Favorite) Violent Movies
- Gentrification: “Clybourne Park” Plot Speaks to Borderstan
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Black History Month and the Media
- Catching Up: The Movie Fan is Back with New Reviews
- Opera Lite: Opera at the Movies
- Borderstan Movie Fan: “Avatar” and Films for the Big Screen
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Movies for Christmas
- “Precious” and “The Blind Side” Tell Some Hard Truths
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Children’s Movies for Grandparents, Part 2/Older Kids
- Borderstan Movie Fan: Children’s Movies for Grandparents (Part 1)
- High School Musicals
- Movies for Foodies
- Health Care Options at the Movies
- My Favorite Sexy Movies
- Borderstan Movie Fan” Tells You What to Rent