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Saturday, April 23, 2011


Even the opening credits are swoon-worthy in Luca Guadagnino’s ultra-lux pic about a wealthy Milanese family (the Recchis) who seem unaware that they are entering a two-fold crisis. On the business side, Grandfather is passing on the family textile concern to his son (Tancredi) & eldest grandson (Edoardo). Thoughts of Lear splitting his kingdom spring to mind, but it’s the brave new world of global economics that will take charge of events. On the personal side, with Granddad gone & his wife suitably moved to a chic apartment, the estate is now run by Tancredi & his beautiful Russian-born wife, Tilda Swinton. But a life changing meal, prepared by her son’s friend & business partner, ignites an inexplicable romantic folly (right out of a Tolstoy novel), and her meticulously designed & organized life suddenly palls. Tragedy may loom around the corner, but at least everyone will be properly dressed. The film is often successful in reviving tropes out of a ‘50s romantic drama (imagine a collaboration between Visconti & Douglas Sirk) with a pulsating John Adams’ score to ‘mod’ things up. (‘The Chairman Dances’ gets a workout.) But halfway thru, Guadagnino begins to mistake fashionable with fashion, dropping the ball on simple plot points, and asking too much from what he’s got to offer. It's like one of those exquisite, but tiny plates of food. The film remains a treat to look at, though less so when we hit the placid countryside where we could have done without the flowers & insects seconding the illicit lovemaking. Meanwhile, the business angle, which might have helped balance the film’s relationships & storylines, gets terribly short shrift.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Otto Preminger's BONJOUR TRISTESSE/'58 is a masterful example of the form.

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