Films I loved in December 2017

23 December 2017

Armie Hammer as Oliver in Call Me by Your Name

The mix of young love, lust, and summer in Northern Italy in Call Me by Your Name has allowed director Luca Guadagnino to deliver a film of immense beauty and emotional resonance. The film’s slow burn pace allows a wonderful build of tension and desire, to underpin the romance between 17-year-old Elio and his father’s student Oliver, both played to perfection respectively by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer.

The Florida Project

Christopher Rivera as Scooty and Brooklynn Prince as Moonee in The Florida Project

The Florida Project continues filmmaker Sean Baker’s spotlight on marginalised and invisible people living in the USA. Set in a low-budget motel, within walking distance of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, it follows the lives of mother and daughter Halley (Bria Vinaite) and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) whose defiant struggle to get through every day is both gleefully audacious and heartbreaking.

Paddington 2

Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) in Paddington 2

Paddington 2 maintains the original film’s blend of good natured humour and warm hearted message of acceptance and diversity, without losing any of the charm or stylistic inventiveness that defined the original film. While 2017 has seen the release of many films that capture the current grim mood of the times, the release of this child-friendly crime-caper/prison film right at the end of the year is a much needed tonic.

In Between

Sana Jammelieh as Salma, Shaden Kanboura as Noor and Mouna Hawa as Leila in In Between

In Between begins as an enjoyably light drama about three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv, and then transitions into a more serious film to explore issues of religion, gender and sexuality. The joy of the film is the solidarity the women share with each other despite their differences, while the tragedy of the film are the ways patriarchal oppression under the guise of religion and tradition continues to assault them.


Suzu (voiced by Rena Nounen) in In This Corner of the World

In This Corner of the World begins as a domestic drama about a young woman in 1930s Japan entering into an arranged marriage, and then gradually becomes a powerful drama about living during wartime. The animation is impressive, especially when it incorporates the main character’s own artwork, and the restraint used to depict the horrors of war and losing loved ones is quietly powerful.


Lene Cecilia Sparrok as Elle-Marja in Sami Blood

Not knowing anything about the Scandinavian indigenous Sami people, most of what occurs in Sami Blood was new to me. However, it was also depressingly familiar as through the experiences of a 14-year-old Sami girl in 1930s Sweden, the films reveals how yet another indigenous group was expected to assimilate while also being made to feel inferior. This is an excellent drama and a bold new development in Swedish cinema.


Tanea Heke as Charm in Waru

The New Zealand film Waru comprises eight short films that all take place simultaneously during the funeral of a young boy who has died as the result of neglect and abuse. All eight films are single takes, all are directed by Māori women and all feature a different Māori woman who is directly or indirectly affected by the death. This is powerful and urgent storytelling.

Jim & Andy

Jim Carrey in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

And finally, I caught up with Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond on Netflix, a documentary combining an interview with Jim Carrey along with previously unseen footage of the making of the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon. The result is a compelling portrait of both Carrey and Kaufman, and also a fascinating study of the artistic process that is at times hilarious, unsettling, disturbing and surprisingly moving.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017



An interview with Luca Guadagnino, the director of I Am Love

27 June 2010
I Am Love writer/director Luca Guadagnino

I Am Love writer/director Luca Guadagnino

Set in Milan at the start of the last decade I Am Love is about Emma, played by Tilda Swinton, the mother of the extremely wealthy family who made their fortune in the textile business. Evoking both the stylish Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk and the rich mise-en-scene and cinematography of Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, I Am Love is a feast for the senses.

When I spoke with Luca Guadagnino we talked about collaborating with Tilda Swinton, the inspiration for I Am Love‘s cinematography and his love of Jonathan Demme’s films, especially Silence of the Lambs and Rachel Getting Married.

This interview was recorded on Friday 11 June 2010 and then played on The Casting Couch on Saturday 26 June 2010.

Download link (interview running time = 10:49)

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Film review – I Am Love (2009)

24 June 2010
I Am Love: Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton)

Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton)

Set in Milan at the beginning of the 2000s, I Am Love begins with a series of stunningly beautiful shots of the Italian city in winter, combined with dramatic music and gorgeously hand drawn opening title graphics that recall the great European films of the 1950s. We are introduced to various members of the Recchi family who are gathering to celebrate their grandfather’s birthday, the man whose textile business has brought the family so much wealth. One of the family members gathered at this occasion is Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), the Russian-born matriarch of the family whose son and husband are named as the joint successors of her father-in-law’s business. While initially seeming like it could develop into a Shakespearian drama of father versus son over control of the business, I Am Love instead focuses on Emma to develop into a film about emotional repression and what it takes to break free and experience passion despite its consequences.

The defining quality that makes I Am Love such captivating cinema is its extraordinary beauty. Writer/director Luca Guadagnino has made a visually transfixing film where the lyrical editing and gorgeous cinematography present the already visually arresting settings and decor in a way that is completely breathtaking. In particular, French cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s tendency to slightly over-expose all his shots to give everything in the frame a radiant glow. The result is a mesmerising atmosphere that is made even more dreamlike when combined with the discordant score by minimalist composer John Adams.

Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) and Edoardo Recchi Jr. (Flavio Parenti)

Not completely dissimilar to the way Quentin Tarantino mines exploitation and B-grade cinema to inspire and reference his films, Guadagnino has appropriated and paid homage to many of the great art house directors as well as some key Hollywood directors. Guadagnino is extremely well versed in cinema history and academia so you could spend hours debating the points in which I Am Love evokes the films of Sergei Eisenstein, Michelangelo Antonioni, Douglas Sirk and Alfred Hitchcock. However, it really is the cinema of Luchino Visconti that is most recognisable as one of Guadagnino’s influences, especially The Leopard. However, while The Leopard’s themes of an upper class and older generation stepping aside to make way for the new have some thematic similarities to a number of the sub-plots in I Am Love, it is the rich visual detail in both films where the main distinction lies.

I Am Love is an astonishing film that deserves to be savoured although it struggles to maintain the initial level of interest after a particular plot development upsets its previously serene mood. Also, while the intense visuals are undeniably impressive, they don’t consistently connect to the story emotionally. Tilda Swinton delivers a bold and powerful performance as Emma although it would have been nice to see more of some of the other characters more fleshed out, in particular her two children who are breaking free of their family’s restraints in their own ways.  Like Luke Ford’s A Single Man, I Am Love is somewhat a case of style over substance but at least that style is rich enough for it not to matter.

Listen to Thomas Caldwell’s interview with writer/director Luca Guadagnino.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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