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Case Number 20078

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I Am Love

Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // November 10th, 2010

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Editor's Note

Our review of I Am Love (Blu-Ray), published October 13th, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

How does a woman live in the background?

Opening Statement

"When I moved to Milan, I stopped being Russian. I learned to be Italian. Emma is not my real name. Tancredi gave it to me."

Facts of the Case

Emma (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton) is at the center of the Recchi family. She's a supportive wife and a hard-working mother. Her husband Tancredi and their son Edo have just been handed joint control over the family's textile business. Emma is at the center of this aristocratic family living in a big mansion in Milan. Yet, Emma isn't really there.

With the arrival of a talented chef named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini, Don't Think About It)—Edo's friend from school and his partner in a new restaurant—Emma's comfortable existence begins to come apart. Unsettled by reawakened desire, Emma starts an affair with Antonio. However, the pursuit of love is sure to have consequences.

The Evidence

I Am Love is an operatic movie experience. Sumptuous scenery, bombastic music and love—irrational, all-consuming love—drive this story of one woman's emergence from a comfortable but staid life into a world that is beautiful and alive. The movie deals with private aspects of the family's makeup: the daughter's discovery of her sexual identity, the son negotiating his aspirations with the family's traditional expectations and Emma's struggle between her responsibilities and her desires. Those are set against larger historical shifts as the aristocratic Recchi family deals with its legacy and continuing identity in the contemporary world.

Emma is magnificently played by the immeasurably talented Tilda Swinton. In the opening moments, Emma is involved in every aspect of the family dinner, yet she manages to be nearly invisible. This is a woman playing a very structured role in a family steeped in tradition. Swinton embodies Emma so effortlessly as a woman who is not quite unhappy but certainly unfulfilled. Layering on the complexities, Swinton is completely convincing speaking Italian with a Russian accent. Still, there's much more to the role than the linguistic trick. Emma is a wife and a mother discovering herself as a woman again. There is much depth in the way she interacts with her husband and her children and her lover.

American composer John Adams (Nixon in China) provides a score that is essential to the spirit of the movie. Monumental orchestrations hint at the emotional turmoil of its characters. If Emma moves in measured steps and carefully timed looks, the music announces raw passion and reckless emotion. The strange mix of tones—small gestures by the actors; grand statements by the music—makes for a thrilling and enthralling experience.

You may not immediately recognize how superb the technical presentation is on this DVD. The opening act in the Recchi house is visually sedate with warm colors and subdued details. The picture seems a touch soft but you can detect layers of detail masked by the darkness. The specifics of the family's surroundings barely make an impression but this must be the intention of cinematography Yorick Le Saux (Julia 2008). As Emma becomes more daring, as her desire for Antonio grows, the movie's setting shifts. The Italian countryside, the cities of London, San Remo and the rest, are rendered in exquisite clarity and with vibrant colors. It's a dynamic visual journey and the image on this disc supports it well.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio provides very strong support to the movie. The soundscape is not complex so the clear dialogue in the front is more than adequate. The powerful music is nicely placed among the surround channels and the mix wisely saves its best moment for the climax of the movie when the crescendo of music threatens to bring down the house.

Some informative supplements are included on the disc. Director Luca Guadagnino and Tilda Swinton provide a commentary that reveals quite a bit about their film's intentions plus they share lots of anecdotes from the filming. There is more than an hour's worth of interviews with all main cast members as well as the costume designer and the director. The actors provide lots of background details about their characters since the movie's long gestation period allowed them time to thoroughly research their roles. A 15-minute featurette shows behind-the-scenes moments from the movie's production. The trailer is also included.

Closing Statement

I Am Love is a bold and ambitious movie. The confident direction of Guadagnino, the soaring music of Adams and the fearless talent of Swinton are more than enough reason to warrant a recommendation. The DVD looks and sounds great, plus it's packed with meaty supplemental features that give real depth into the creation of the movie.

The Verdict

This disc is free to go because I love it. Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 88
Audio: 85
Extras: 80
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile

Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
• English (CC)
• Spanish
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama
• Foreign
• Romance

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Featurette
• Interviews
• Trailer


• IMDb

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