Inside Out Film Fest 2010: Part Four

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The String (Le Fil)

Directed by Mehdi Ben Attia

Have you ever wondered what a soap opera would look like if it was feature-length? Well, The String (Le Fil) is the answer. While I should give it some credit for being better written, better acted (this thing’s got Claudia Cardinale for god’s sakes) and funnier than a soap opera, that’s essentially what it is. A more polished version of a soap opera. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is funny. I laughed lots of times. Once I downright snorted. It was embarrassing for everyone. But when this movie tries to be serious is when it starts running into problems and turning into a polished melodrama. The film tells the story of Malik who comes back to Tunisia from France to care for his mother after the death of his father. The story of the child coming back to care for one parent after the other has died has been told before and it’s been told better.  While the funny parts of the film are certainly entertaining, the serious ones aren’t exactly engaging. The rich cinematography showing of the gorgeous scenery in Tunisia doesn’t really help either. Although it is nice to look at.

I Am Love (Io Sono L’amore)

Directed by Luca Guadagnin0

“Know thyself,” reads the inscription above the oracle at Delphi in Greek mythology. I Am Love is not unlike those ancient Greek tragedies, such as Oedipus. As the story goes, Oedipus was ignorant of a prophecy that foretold he would marry his mother and kill his father. Of course this comes true because he was adopted by a different family as a child and literally grew up not knowing who he was.  Eventually he put out his eyes and exiled himself.

In I Am Love, the main character Emma suffers a similar fate. Played by Tilda Swinton, Emma is a Russian woman who moved to Italy in her early twenties after meeting her future husband, Tancredi. During the move she not only adopted a new name (Emma) but completely gave up her Russian roots and instead became completely Italian. Twenty odd years later she lives in a lonely mansion while her husband is out working and her three grown children have lives of their own. When she meets her son Edoardo’s friend and master cook Antonio, she begins her difficult journey to find herself again. Like Oedipus, this means a great loss to her and eventual exile as the Greek tragedy of her life plays out.

However, the film is far from being all bleak and tragic. There are moments of light and humour and in parts, the film is so absurd, it seems sick to laugh but there isn’t any other reaction to what is happening on screen. On the other hand there was at least one moment when I audibly gasped because of the shock of what was happening on screen.

All of this would not be possible without leading lady Tilda Swinton. I usually dislike the phrase “force of nature” when describing an actor’s  performance but try as I might I can’t come up with anything better to describe her in this film. I have never quite understood the hype around her as much until now. She is positively magnetic and I found it impossible to take my eyes off her. Normally I am suspicious at American actors being cast as foreign characters but in this case, it really paid off. Speaking both Italian and Russian in this film, there is not one second where we doubt that she speaks these languages fluently.

Flavio Parenti, who plays Emma’s oldest son Edoardo gives the other standout performance. Arguably the closest of Emma’s children to her, he has issues of his own to deal with as he is forced to help take over the family’s company after his grandfather’s death. At the same time he has to balance this with opening a restaurant with Antonio and proposing to his serious girlfriend. Another notable performance is given by Alba Rohrwacher as Emma’s daughter Elisabetta who is struggling with finding herself as well upon realizing that she is attracted to women.

Coupled with the beautiful backdrop of urban as well as rural Italy and stunning cinematography by Yorick Le Saux and a dramatic and haunting score by John Adams, this movie leaves you on the edge of your seat the entire time. From the languid and dream-like beginning to a shocking and thrilling finish.

– Laura Holtebrinck

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