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A sublime homage to Visconti

14 April 2010
Published in Culture
by Giovanni Biglino

A work of great elegance. A fresco of Italian haute bourgeoisie painted with no parsimony of colours. A movie that sits proudly in the always praised tradition of great Italian cinematography, sildenafil with one name coming to mind: that of Luchino Visconti. Io sono l’amore (I am love) is a compelling story, levitra the story of a world (that of an industrial dynasty of fairly recent wealth), the story of a woman (the daughter of a Russian restorer become tasteful socialite), the story of her children (debating their beliefs, caught in between tradition and personal identity). But it also a cultivated visual accomplishment, for the amount of sophisticated citations and technical craft that were poured into it.

The setting is Milano. Not the capital of fashion, but something softer: Milano covered in snow, seen from the top. The family is uniting around the dining table for the birthday of the patriarch (the first of many parallels with Visconti, as in the opening of La caduta degli dei). Everyone is present: the charismatic and respected patriarch holding the keys to the family’s fortune, a much uninspiring natural heir, the young promise of a successful grandson, the foreign woman with a soothing accent and a naturally refined deportment, the glamorous lady who seems not to remember that her youth has long gone, a granddaughter questioning her sexuality, various extras, the faithful housekeeper, a number of servants. It is a microcosm, with a set of rules and a set of mores, with a very specific language mostly unintelligible for or easily misunderstood by the outsider, with their “totems and taboos”: the works of art on the walls (Morandi, Campigli, Sironi), hidden rivalries, dormant desires. Then, as in the most respected tradition of drama, an element of conflict enters the secluded world of the golden dynasty. The plot evolves, in the streets of Milano and in the rooms of the villa, in the Ligurian hinterland and in the City of London, but it is tinged with tragedy.

Luca Guadagnino has written and directed a very dense movie. An ambitious project conceived together with his lead actress, the enigmatic, commonly-known androgynous but here incredibly feminine Academy award winner Tilda Swinton. Muse for Derek Jarman and reincarnation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Swinton plays the beautiful Russian married into the wealthy Recchi family. Emma (Bovary?) speaks an exotic Italian and, meaningfully, Russian with her eldest son. Naturally elegant and controlled, she radiates her Russian heritage through an underling agitation. Alongside Swinton, an Italian cast (Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti, Alba Rohrwacher) with a showy Marisa Berenson playing Rori, Emma’s mother-in-law. But it is not “just” the director and his actors contributing to the accomplishment of the movie. Guadagnino was aided in the script writing process by three well-known Italian authors (Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo and Walter Fasano). The photography has been cleverly entrusted to Yorick Le Saux, who has extensively worked with François Ozon in the past. The costumes have been specifically designed by Raf Simons (Jil Sander) for Tilda Swinton and jewels have been provided by Damiani. The setting itself has a prestigious history: Villa Necchi Campiglio (today a museum) was designed by the architect Piero Portaluppi for the Necchi family and is a very fine example of 1930s architecture, with sleek lines, linear rosewood bookcases, sliding doors, a heated swimming-pool and housing a collection of modern Italian art. In the tradition of Visconti, every detail has been tastefully studied.

The parallel with Visconti is not limited to the opening scene and to the attention for details. Tilda Swinton on the top of the Dome brings to mind iconic imagery from Rocco e i suoi fratelli (of course in a very different context). Music has a central role in the movie (an opulent soundtrack by John Adams) just as Wagner is crucial in Ludwig or Mahler accompanies memorable sequences of Morte a Venezia. Family dynamics and the elegant setting (with a hint, or more than just a hint, of decadence) are at the core of most of Visconti’s oeuvre. Marisa Berenson herself (granddaughter of Elsa Schiaparelli) was part of the cast of Morte a Venezia. But comparisons can be diminishing, to the detriment of a work’s originality. A homage is particularly effective when it is involuntary. The difference between a lesson absorbed and reinterpreted and a poem mechanically recited by heart, just as a true natural heir is not mimicking a legacy but is effortlessly enacting it.

This is a cultivated movie, just like someone who is used to populate his reasoning with citations. Madame Bovary and De Chirico are part of the lexicon. So is Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giordano, whose aria La mamma morta provides the title of the movie, Io sono l’amore, by means of an indirect citation (the famous sequence of Philadelphia in which a terminally ill Tom Hanks translates the Italian text into English to an astonished Denzel Washington). Just like a reflection in a mirror, something Visconti was very fond of.

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