Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti,
Alba Rohrwacher, Edoardo Gabbriellini

Tilda Swinton stars as Emma Recchi, a Russian who has married into a wealthy Milanese family. As the wife of an industrialist, her existence is pretty mundane. Mostly she is an effective hostess for the family's parties and social gatherings. Her three grown children have busy lives of their own. Emma's life is turned upside down as she wakes from a slumber like existence upon meeting Antonio. A close friend of her son with whom she embarks on a passionate affair.

Amid all the luxuries on display in this Italian film (the grand mansion, the paintings, as well as gloved servants) nothing holds your gaze as forcefully as Tilda Swinton's alabaster face. Swinton dominates the movie. Speaking in an elegantly Russian-inflected Italian, she fits the role of the matriarch quite well. When the first shock waves of change hit her, she absorbs them internally. She is still able to maintain her composure even though clearly she has been awakened. Towards the end of this soaring melodrama, which closes with a funeral, Emma's face will have crumpled into a ruin. But it will also be fully alive, having been granted freedom from the rigid trappings of a cloistered life.

The camera work blends together serene shots of the family gatherings along with vast footage of scenery. Scenes of snow filled Milan or a lush meadow filled with insects tend to invade your senses. Dialogue is mostly in Italian with a sputtering of English and Russian thrown in. The film also has an operatic musical score that cleverly bursts through certain scenes. It certainly added to the melodramatic tone of the film.

Yet in the last 20 minutes of the film, when the shocking climax arrives it is devoid of any sound. I had to reach for the remote control because I thought I had muted the sound. When the picture ends in full-blown, melodramatic tragedy, we realize everything that had come before was a pleasant tease of a crescendo, leading up to an almighty finale.

I have to admit this movie won't appeal to every taste. But it is a sensational piece to look at, powerfully acted, and delivers quite an emotional kick.

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