Emma left Russia to live with her husband in Italy. Now a member of a powerful industrial family, she is the respected mother of three, but feels unfulfilled. One day, Antonio, a talented chef and her son's friend, makes her senses kindle.
Over two decades ago, Emma left Russia to follow Tancredi Recchi, the man who had proposed to her. Now a member of a powerful industrial Milanese family, she is the respected mother of three. But Emma, although not unhappy, feels confusedly unfulfilled. One day Antonio, a talented chef and her son's friend and partner, makes her senses kindle. It does not take long before she embarks on a passionate affair with the sensuous young man. Written by
A beautifully photographed fever-dream of traditional Italy today
The visual intent of the film is all in the first few framings, beautifully composed aerial shots of Milan in winter. There are all sorts of tepid allusions to a golden age of Italian cinema (this opening sequence recalling the helicopter shots of La Dolce Vita, for example) but the film is more to do with investigating a broader Italian cultural history. Consequently the film deals with a family with some lineage. A basically patriarchal group, the drama is propelled by the actions of the women, the independent-minded Betta Recchi (Alba Rohrwacher) but principally her mother, the Russian emigré Emma, played by Tilda Swinton.
The film is a great example of Swinton's range. She can be the glamorous matriarch, finding exactly the right pitch between her mother-in-law's haughteur and the natural self-possession of the at-ease-with-privilege. She looks quite beguiling in her extended wardrobe. When called on though she can also crumple into a skeletal rack, with opaque eyes and bent with emotional exhaustion. One cannot place her age as her grace, abandon and stoicism are connected with her understanding of the character, not simply how she moves her body. It's fascinating and, I might add, terrifically sexy. The rest of the cast cannot and does not attain this level of involvement although they bear their roles with competence.
Perhaps the film is most notable for two things. Its photography is very fine, almost tangible, sultry but lucid - although I struggled with the insistence on quick, close-passing dollies and pans which seemed strangely amateurish. Above all though this film benefits from the use of extracts of music by John Adams, which at a stroke confers two extra dimensions on the film, giving it a an epic, even portentous sweep and also increasing the dramatic propulsion already on the screen. It's not an infallible conceit - once or twice I felt a bit bullied by this - but invariably it really works. A sometimes confusing but nonetheless exhilarating film. 7/10
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