[Gabe Liedman is a stand-up comedian, and one half of the Gabe and Jenny comedy team with Jenny Slate. This week, he saw the movie I Am Love]
A dear friend of mine and I used to have a SUPER INTELLIGENT, SOPHISTICATED, and NORMAL game called “People’s Pussies,” where we’d imagine what famous ladies’ genitals would be like if they themselves were people. What were their favorite snacks, favorite songs, personality traits, etc.? Tilda Swinton was one of our favorite subjects, and we decided, back then (in the go-go Michael Clayton days) that Tilda Swinton’s pussy always had a pounding headache, that it smelled like unscented hand cream, and that it would invite you over for dinner all the time, but never come out of its room to eat with you. It’s a fun game, and a great way to show respect to other people. It was impossible to get my preconceived notions of Tilda Swinton’s pussy’s personality out of my head going into I Am Love, but that damn movie was so good that from now on I will always think of Tilda Swinton’s pussy as someone who loves shrimp, the color orange, hiking, and low-back designer frocks—just like me! In a way, I’m Tilda Swinton’s pussy, and in another way, Tilda Swinton’s pussy is everyone. I Am Love is a great movie.
I Am Love is not the kind of movie I usually like. For example: it is not in English. Also: no Matt Damon? It’s an old-fashioned melodrama, centering entirely on the exploits of one Milanese family—an extremely wealthy Milanese family whose fortune was made by manufacturing fabric. The movie opens on Tilda, the matriarch, supervising her enormous domestic staff as they set up a fancy dinner party for her father-in-law’s birthday. We see that she is firm, but lovely, and has a close relationship with her head maid, Ida, and all of her GORGEOUS children.
The seating chart is adjusted, last-minute, to welcome her son’s new girlfriend, one of the sexiest ladies ever captured on film, into the fold. Oh, and Tilda is a Russian lady who immigrated to Milan for marriage.
During the dinner party, which is filmed in long, symphonic, chunks of takes, we learn that Grandpa is retiring from the fabric biz, and bequeathing the factory to his son, Tilda’s hubby, and his grandson, Tilda’s son, which no one was expecting. But, everyone accepts it with stoic fanciness, because when Grandpa bequeaths, everyone’s like “how high?”
As the family, The Recchis, retire from the food-room in the mansion to the booze room in the mansion, a mysterious stranger shows up at the door with a cake. It turns out to be Tilda’s son Edoardo’s buddy Antonio, who is a sexual chef with, we will later learn, a highly photogenic taint. Antonio meets Tilda very briefly before she ditches the party for some Tilda time upstairs. Antonio is dropping a cake off to apologize for beating Tilda’s son in some sort of race earlier (Europe!).
Tilda’s son Edoardo, or Edo as they call him, is a high-achieving, humongous-eyed Italian stud-o-saurus with a big wet heart full of soaking wet feelings. Even though Antonio beat him in some race or other, which in Europe could get a person killed, Edo has warm feelings toward his chef friend, and goes to visit him at his countryside vegetable farm. Antonio serves him roasted eggplant with elderflower, and over the moans in the audience and the thick steam of excitation clouding the subtitles, I made out that Edo plans to help Antonio turn half of his farm into a fancy restaurant, using his enormous wealth.
First, Edo wants to get The Recchis on board with the restaurant, so he sends his girlfriend, mother, and grandmother to sample his goods, which they do with relish. This scene was one of the most intense, a bright spotlight lit Tilda, as the rest of the room fell into darkness, as she savored a huge head-on prawn riding ratatouille reverse-cowgirl style. Her you-know-what gave Antonio’s dishes a thunderous applause, and she stole away from her female relatives to tell him so face to face.
Antonio begins cooking for private Recchi affairs (an engagement party here, a birthday party there), and slowly Tilda’s you-know-what begins to crave his company. When she inadvertently finds a postcard from her daughter to her son explaining that her daughter is a lesbian and has fallen in love with a woman, she is shaken at first, but then inspired to follow her own sexual cravings, which lead her to the mountainous, overgrown farm where Antonio makes his vegetables and sweat.
Antonio is shy, and weird, but dark and sexual, and he awakens Tilda’s senses through herbs and DICK. The sex scenes between them are pretty amazing, and while neither of their goodies are on full display, a barrage of fleshy close-ups, shallow depth-of-field nature photography, soaring orchestral music, and shots of unexpected bodily landscapes (Antonio’s taint and balls, Tilda’s breast covered in brand-new hickies) prove more human and sexual than all the Samantha-pounding in Sex and the City 1 & 2 combined.
Tilda’s awakening rocks her world, and the world of her family, by extension. As her horizons are fucked wide open, her family decides to unload their fabric factory onto a know-it-all American Sikh, and the life of hard-earned opulence cracks under some pretty modern pressures. For all the predictable getting one’s groove back elements in I Am Love, there’s an element of novelty—a statement about Globalization here, a lesson about parenting there—and a fuckload of style to keep your eyes on the screen no matter how many people in the theater have forgotten to silence their phones.
It took me a good 45 minutes to figure out that I Am Love was not set in the 1960’s, and that is a huge compliment. From the costuming to the score to the photography to the writing and direction (which made this insular family melodrama feel like a high-tension thriller with none of the mystery), this was like watching an old movie (which everyone besides me seems to love doing sooooo much), but fixed. It was an old movie with modern sex, and modern politics, and modern gourmand aesthetics. Oh, and modern body types, which slam together in tall grass while grasshoppers climb strawberry bushes and lesbians take Polaroids of each other’s clavicles, and grandmothers stay gorgeous without starting to look like Michael Jackson. I may never get to cheat on my millionaire husband in the non-privacy of my son’s friend’s farm, slipping out of a vintage looking tailored “outdoorsy” ensemble with the determination of an immigrant married off before her time, but this movie was pretty fucking close.
I give I Am Love 5 out of 5 Videogums.