‘I Am Love’: Great costumes, thin characters

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Magnolia PicturesThe Italian drama "I Am Love" opens Sunday, Sept. 5 at the Wheeler Opera House.

The Italian film “I Am Love,” set in upper-class Milan society, offers a lot in the way of trimmings: Gorgeous interiors and costume design. A magnificent score by John Adams. (Cue the Academy Awards people.) Actors who are routinely tall and slim, seemingly cast to fit in the clothes and the surroundings.What is missing is the meat. Thoughtful cinematography, the use of silence and stillness, sumptuous design and attractive actors can all embellish a movie, but they don’t make a movie. At least not here.”I Am Love” places us into the palatial realm of the Recchis, a family of privilege, manners, good looks, good taste, athletic ability and noblesse oblige. (They are the Paepckes of Milan.) They have their share of upper-class angst: Is Edo’s new girlfriend a proper match? Are the seating arrangements for the dinner party satisfactory? Is Betta really a lesbian?There are questions of more significance: Now that grandpa is retiring, what will become of the family’s textile business? And what to make of this simmering relationship between Emma Recchi – mother of three, and wife of Tancredi, and played by Tilda Swinton – and Antonio, the modest, young chef?The Recchis approach these issues with a certain bourgeois coolness; the most emotional moments, by far, are displayed by the family’s servants. But writer-director Luca Guadagnino puts even more distance between the characters and the viewers. He gives us only the barest pieces of a story and dialogue; he seems to believe that the furniture and art and silence can say as much as his people.The Recchis world, of course, is crumbling. With grandpa out of the picture, the pressure is on to do something with the business – sell it, globalize it, change it. (It would be so nice if these pressures caused a bit more turmoil within the family, rather than the occasional polite conversation.) A bigger upheaval is the illicit romance between Emma and Antonio; even with the film’s coolness, there’s no mistaking that there will be consequences to suffer.In the final scene – quite a good one, with the drama finally amped up – the Recchis try to reassemble the pieces of their life. It’s no use; Emma says to her husband, “You no longer know who I am.” She could just as well be speaking to the viewer. We haven’t gotten to know these people well enough.”I Am Love” shows Sunday through Wednesday, Sept. 5-8, at the Wheeler Opera House.••••MountainSummit: Mountainfilm in Aspen closes its second season with a lineup of films on Sunday, Aug. 29. “Somewhere Near Tapachula,” from the makers of last year’s hit comic documentary “Surfing 50 States,” shows at 3 p.m. “Bag It,” a documentary about the planet being overrun by plastics, made by Telluridians Suzan Beraza and Jeb Berrier, is set for 5 p.m. The festival closes with “The Tillman Story,” director Amir Bar-Lev’s highly anticipated documentary about Pat Tillman, a former professional football player whose combat death was ••••All that has been released so far of “127 Hours,” a film based on the well-known experience of former Aspenite Aron Ralston in Utah’s Blue John Canyon, is a minute-long trailer. But it’s safe to say that the film will raise a viewer’s pulse in a manner that “I Am Love” does not.Ralston’s story, of amputating his own arm to escape from the boulder that has pinned him down for five days, is given the full-blown Hollywood treatment. In the trailer’s 60 or so seconds, there are teases of hubris, sex, recklessness, sublime scenery and loads of heart-racing adventure.The promising thing here is that directing “127 Hours” is Danny Boyle, who put a similar intensity into “Slumdog Millionaire,” and earned a Best Picture Oscar for his vision. Joining Boyle are several other key members of the “Slumdog” team, including screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and composer A.R. Rahman. Playing Ralston is James Franco, who has turned in some very good work, never more so than his portrayal of Sean Penn’s boyfriend Scott in “Milk.” Featured as Ralston’s sister, Sonja, is Lizzy Caplan.”127 Hours,” distributed by Fox Searchlight, has its world premiere Sept. 12 at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is scheduled for national release on Nov. 5.••••As always, late summer and early fall are catch-up time for Aspen cinema lovers. With the Wheeler Opera House given over to the Aspen Music Festival for most of the summer, the small-scale films don’t have much of a home here. So we watch a segment of the movie world pass us by, hoping that, at some point, it will find its way here.The Wheeler Film Society’s late-summer schedule opens with “Cyrus,” an indie comedy starring Jonah Hill as an overgrown boy who comes between his single mother (Marisa Tomei) and her new boyfriend (John C. Reilly). It shows Tuesday through Saturday, Aug. 31-Sept. 4.”Please Give,” showing Sept. 12-14, is most promising. The writer-director is Nicole Holofcener, whose past two films, “Friends with Money” and “Lovely & Amazing,” showed wit, heart and quirky appeal. Starring as the New York City couple having problems with their neighbors down the hall are Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt. ‘Nuff said.”Exit Through the Gift Shop,” an appropriately mysterious documentary (perhaps) about the shadowy graffiti artist who goes by the name Banksy, shows Sept. 20-22.••••The 32nd annual Aspen Filmfest kicks off not just with film, but with music as well. The opening night program, set for Sept. 29 at the Wheeler, is “Nowhere Boy,” a dramatic look at the formative years of John Lennon, in mid-’50s Liverpool. Lennon is played by Aaron Johnson; portraying the two women clashing over the future Beatle are Anne-Marie Duff, as the bohemian mother who gave the boy away as an infant, and Kristin Scott Thomas as the more straight-laced aunt who raised John.Following the screening is a performance by Lennon’s first band, the Quarrymen, which features three original members.Aspen Film will give a preview look at the Filmfest program over Labor Day weekend, with the full schedule announced on Sept. 8. Tickets go on sale Sept. 15. Filmfest is set for Sept. 29-Oct.