Dear I Am Love,

I don’t know what to write about you.  I started earlier this week and gave up.  I started again now, gave up, and resorted to writing you (a movie of all things) a letter.

For starters, you don’t make any sense for the first hour, but you do.  You have multiple characters, all within the same family.  There are five family members, all but one get significant screen time.

Let’s start with Tancredi, who is the easiest in some regards, mostly because he doesn’t get much screen time.  He’s the son of an ailing textile factory owner and comes into inheritance of said factory at the opening dinner party (dinner parties are prominent throughout the film, as is the food that’s cooked by just about everyone).  He’s excited, but completely downcast when he learns that he’s set to run the company with his son, Eduardo Jr.  And then… well, he’s the man of the family.  He’s Italian – Catholic Italian presumably.  That’s all you need to know.

Elisabetta is the daughter of Tancredi and Emma (more on her later), who goes to school in London.  She’s an art student.  She’s with a man at the beginning of the film, but as she’s in London, she discovers she’s gay (a secret only known to Emma).  She has a girlfriend.  She’s an art student, and at some point along the way, trying to put together an art show.  She’s trying to find some sort of acceptance, which is hard to come by in general (again, only from Emma).  Again, that’s all you need to know.

Eduardo Jr. is the eldest son, and unexpectedly picked to run the company with his father.  He’s a runner – he loses on the day of the first dinner to a chef – the chef, Antonio, delivers a cake, and they become friends, at least months later.  They plan a restaurant together.  He brings a woman to the party, Eva, whom he eventually marries.  He’s not very forward thinking, deciding to run the company in the image of his dearly departed grandfather, though given the forces of globalization, that’s not going to happen.  And, once again, that’s all you need to know.

Lastly, there’s Emma.  She’s a native Russian, often stuck in the role of matriarch to a family that has grown up and moved on.  She’s drawn to Antonio, first to his cooking, and then to him.  Her decisions bring calamity to the family, which I won’t divulge here, but they’re very important to the outcome of the film.

That occurs during the second half of the film, when it settles around Emma, Eduardo Jr, and Antonio.  It’s becomes more coherent then, and, sadly, almost predictable in its outcome.  I only say that because the first half, both in its frustration and its excellence, refuses to follow the demands of conventional film making.  The film requires a focused mind from start to finish, but especially in the first half.  It’s deliberately patient, and the reward is a quality film, if you can get through it.

That’s not to say it’s the best film by any means (I’m referring to you, I Am Love… yes, I haven’t forgotten about you).  The second half, like I said, gains a coherency that borders on predictability.  And the first half is truly frustrating at times: what exactly is the point anyway?  The acting is brave and bold on all fronts though, especially by Tilda Swinton, who at nearly 50 still refuses to be defined by any convention.  There’s a ten minute sequence of her making love to Antonio at least twice, and most of it she spends in the nude.  Her Italian (and Russian for that matter) are damn near perfect.  She’s always completely captivating when she comes on the screen.

Oh, and I Am Love, the scenery is beautiful.  If there is something that rivals Tilda Swinton, it’s the various picturesque views of Italy, from Milan to Sanremo, and off in London as well.  Every place is captured marvelously, through each changing season too.

In short, a difficult, complex, and patient film.  Hard to get through, but it’ll be worth it.