Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

I Am Love / The King's Speech

Intoxicating, rapturous cinema is back with I AM LOVE (IO SONE L'AMORE), made in 2009 starring Tilda Swinton and directed by Luca Guadagnino. This is a stunning, absorbing drama about a wealthy Milanese family and recreates the great cinema experiences of the early 70s with those extraordinary films like Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST or De Sica's GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS. Tilda has described the film as being "Visconti on acid" but there is also a lot of Antonioni influences here.

We start with some widescreen images of the wealthy Recchi family coming together to celebrate the founder's birthday as servants prepare the dining room at their opulent villa, and he is going to announce who is going to replace him (shades of Visconti's THE DAMNED) - to the family's surprise he names his son Tancredi and grandson Edo (whom the rest feel is not really ready for such responsibility). Grandfather is played by Gabriele Ferzetti (Sandro in Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA) and his wife is the still very elegant and beautiful Marisa Berenson - so we have all these assocations with Antonioni, Visconti and Kubrick. Tilda Swinton's Emma (Tancredi's wife) is Russian actually but now part of the Milanese high society and she looks trememdous here, as dressed by Jill Sander. The music too is rapturous and engrossing and has introduced me to John Adams. In fact I shall have to get the soundtrack as an introduction to his work.

Emma gets to meet Antonio, a chef - Edo's friend whom he is going to open a restaurant with and they become attracted to each other which, after years of her staid marriage, leads to a passionate affair which will have far-reaching consequences [rather like that other Russian housewife discovering passion, Anna Karenina]. Antonio is a bit of an enigma, we don't really get to know him. Complications arise with the sale of their textile factory after the grandfather has died, and Emma and Antonio try to keep their passion secret, but Edo begins to suspect and realises when at a banquet Antonio serves up his childhood favourite soup Oucha which Emma used to make for him. They quarrel but he falls and hits his head .... and it all begins to spiral out of control. Emma is also fascinated by her daughter who comes out as a lesbian and starts a passion of her own. There are lots of marvellous moments, with great images and sound and Tilda is totally in control here - it is her best role since THE DEEP END. There are some great locations too around Milan and San Remo, and those Italians in London. Swinton is regal and looks terrific. There is a wonderful scene where she experiences the rapture of food as she eats a dish which Antonio has prepared for her before they get together - one can feel the look and taste of the dish she is savouring. I also like little touches like the light shining on those green glasses at the dinner table among those stunning interiors.

It is all impeccably directed, elegantly shot and is a sleek, polished upper-class melodrama with a great music track which all makes for fascinating cinema full of references to Italian cinema at its best. Highly recommended and I can't wait to experience it again. There is also an interlude with Swinton on the roof of the Milan cathedral, which has been used in many films (like Visconti's ROCCO) and which I visited myself back in '74. And the title? It could refer to the power of love to unlock passion leading to tragedy: "I am love - behold my terrible power to change everything".

THE KING'S SPEECH - the hit of the year here in the UK - is pretty conventional by comparison (I saw it and I AM LOVE the same day), but is marvellously well done, as directed by Tom Hooper, great period detail both with the Royals and ordinary folk, showing that social life back then was sitting around watching the wireless, in those 30s decors. Colin Firth dominates as the stammering Bertie, Duke of York, later King George VI - once his brother has abdicated to marry Mrs Simpson - and his developing relationship with the unconventional Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, well played by Geoffrey Rush. Their scenes are really the core of the film and around them a great cast play out the other parts: Helena Bonham Carter is spot-on as the later Queen Mother - the two little princesses and the corgis are just right, Claire Bloom has a few moments and is perfect as the unbending Queen Mary, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall, Anthony Andrews, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Bennett to Firth's Mr Darcy back in that excellent '90s BBC version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) round out the cast, with Guy Pearce as the new King besotted with the American divorcee. It does show the fear facing the Duke waiting to make his first speech in public at Wembley Stadium and the isolated life with no friends which is a monarch-in-waiting's lot and the destiny which he has to face, without much help from unyielding parents.

I had a childhood/early teen stammer myself so was unsure how I would react to the King's problems but it is handled very well - and not depicted as painful to hear as a real stammer can be (I just don't like and can't use that word stutter). The end credits tell us it is all true but some liberties have been taken - I would imagine there weren't the crowds outside the Palace as the King makes the climactic speech - but some artistic licence has to be allowed to create a rousing finale! Not though since Helen Mirren as THE QUEEN has an actor been so on course for a certain Oscar win - Firth is perfect here, and of course after being nominated and losing last year for playing gay in Tom Ford's A SINGLE MAN as well as playing royal and overcoming a disability! He must now be the pre-dominant English actor of our time. It would be nice to see Helena get some recognition as well, she has turned into a fascinating quirky presence.

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