I have a theory. It has been in the making for years, a thought that I’ve had numerous times, but have just now decided is a sound argument. People are more willing to forgive a foreign film for its flaws and recommend it simply because it is not American. While not all fall into this category, many cinema elitists trash mainstream Hollywood films while praising anything foreign or independent. The truth is that whatever nationality a particular film falls into is irrelevant. There are good foreign films and there are bad ones. I Am Love, while certainly not terrible, is one that can only be classified as mediocre, yet will most likely garner more attention simply because the characters don’t speak English.
The movie begins with Emma (Tilda Swinton) and her family all gathering together for some important news. They have become a wealthy family due to their ownership of a big business, but now the owner is stepping down and passing the reigns to his grandson Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) and his son/Emma’s husband Tancredi (Pippo Delbono). Flash forward months later and the family is making changes to accommodate the shift in power, but certain people have secrets of their own. Emma’s daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) has found love with another female and is telling only her mother because she fears her father and brother won’t approve and Emma has just begun having an affair with a friend of her son’s named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) which could tear the family apart if discovered.
Given the synopsis, it sounds like an intriguing drama. A lot is going on and the abundance of themes lend themselves well to exploration, but unfortunately none of it fully comes around. I Am Love seems like it’s trying to make a statement on love, lust and infidelity, but its attempts falls flat. Similarly, it leaves too many stones unturned, like the internal drama within the family from the feuding personalities of the new business owners Edoardo and Tancredi, as well as the shameful overlooking of how homosexuality can tear apart a family with differing moral values. Remember how I said Elisabetta tries to keep her sexual orientation a secret from everyone but her mother? Well, she succeeds. Her father and brother never find out, which begs the question, why make her gay in the first place if you aren’t going to explore it? The sole reason is for one shot at the end that reinforces its gooey “follow your heart” message that feels about as misplaced as the film’s relevance.
Following my screening of I Am Love, I was lucky enough to sit through a Q&A with John Adams, the man behind the music for the film. Interestingly enough, he pointed out that he thinks most movies misuse music by taking preexisting pieces and trying to place them at points that benefit the action onscreen. He believes that it usually doesn't work because those pieces of music were not intended for that purpose. Ironically, such is the case here. By badmouthing the very idea, he echoed my sentiments exactly. While the music is indeed marvelous in and of itself, it sometimes overpowers the scenes, if it even fits in place at all. Each scene blasted an orchestral score that bled the ears dry, like an early scene where Emma follows Antonio down the street that is accompanied by a quick beat more befitting an action picture.
Now, the direction is lush and the acting is splendid, so yes, I appreciated that, but I needed something else to draw me in. I needed an interesting story. I needed some hard hitting dialogue. I needed some emotion. I needed some redemption. None of that exists here. Even after a tragic scene late in the movie where a prominent character should have been in incredible amounts of emotional torment, none appeared.
I’m aware my opening paragraph criticizing cinema elitists may make me sound like an elitist myself (and if I’m being at all honest, I kind of am), but I’m not foolish enough to think everybody will like this movie simply because it is foreign. Some will truly find something special in it and shout its name from the mountains, which is fine, but I won’t be among them. I Am Love has some great moments, wonderful cinematography and high caliber acting, but it’s just so insufferably boring.
I Am Love receives 2/5