I Am Love (or: Coming apart at the seams of Jil Sander dresses)
That was pretty much my reaction in the moments following the final scenes in I Am Love, sitting alone in the dark, stunned and awed.
I knew I was a goner as soon as the movie started. Just look at the opening credits:
And the intertitles:
Looking at those side by side I realize that they’re actually the perfect introduction to this film. A pairing of classic and modern, I Am Love is a heart-rending and stunning film about the undoing of a wealthy Italian family. The Rotten Tomatoes write-up states that the film “stumbles into melodrama” as if that’s a bad thing; rather than stumbling, I Am Love leaps into melodrama, enthusiastically and without shame. Emma (Tilda Swinton) is the centre of the film – the Russian born matriarch of the Recchi family who, when we first encounter her, seems impossibly polished and refined.
The costuming in this film is so important. It’s not just the fact that Fendi dressed the men and Jil Sander dressed Emma, and everyone thus looks absolutely gorgeous. Instead, costume designer Antonella Cannarozzi has created a visual language that expresses Emma’s emotional state as she is pulled into the love affair that awakens her sensuality and leads to the unraveling of her carefully designed life and home. “In this movie,” says Cannarozzi, “the colours had to beat the rhythm of the drama.” And they do.
Early in the film Emma is secure in her role as wife and mother, and this stability (along with a slight sense of restriction) is embodied by her maroon dress and perfectly matching headband.
When Emma meets her soon-to-be lover, however, her sense of self is rocked, and we see it in her wardrobe.
She still looks polished…
…but just under the surface the fragmented geometric patterning of her sweater shows the beginnings of her inner conflict.
As Emma pursues love, her wardrobe is infused with warmth.
Notably, this warmth is concentrated on the lower half of her body. Ahem.
The conflict that just barely peeked out from under her grey coat in the earlier scene surfaces in the fractured patchwork wrap thing (which I really love. Or would love. On my bed.) that enshrouds her at a family celebration.
Soon thereafter Emma’s inner (and outer) conflict builds to its ultimate, unavoidable crescendo, and in the aftermath everything has changed.
Emma is nearly unrecognizable.
I love love love love loved this film. It was one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences I’ve had in a long time, and left me completely enraptured, in love with it, and with the possibilities of film.