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13th Annual EU Film Festival: I Am Love and Brotherhood

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 11, 2010 5:20PM

2010_3_11iamlove.jpg This is part of Chicagoist's coverage of The European Union Festival, which runs March 5 to April 1 at the Siskel Film Center.

I Am Love centers on a wealthy family who has made their fortune in textiles. Now, movies about dysfunctional rich families are a dime a dozen; Italian movies about dysfunctional rich families might even constitute its own genre (take Visconti's The Leopard and The Damned for starters.) And although, reducing it to a bare description of its plot, I Am Love can be said to fall into that genre, everything else about the movie is thoroughly unorthodox. It has a beguiling sensuality and elliptical editing style that recall Nicholas Roeg at his prime, endowing such banal events as a formal dinner party or a board meeting with an air of exoticism.

Also folded deftly into the mix is the sweepingly rhythmic music of John Adams. But at the heart of things is the audacious casting of Tilda Swinton as a Russian-born Italian (!) who begins to question the choices she's made in life after she discovers a love note belonging to her daughter. She falls in love with a young chef, whose splendid culinary creations often fill the screen (if you're a connoisseur food pr0n, you won't be disappointed.) Swinton is by turns graceful, earthy, restrained, frenzied, and never less than magnetic. It's another flawless performance, and it's surrounded by a film that thoroughly does it justice: this is one of the must-sees of the festival.

2010_3_11brotherhood.jpg Brotherhood, on the other hand, is a gay drama with some serious flaws. In it Lars, a young ex-soldier with a rebellious streak, falls in with a group of neo-Nazi skinheads and finds himself falling in love with one of its most dedicated members, Jimmy. (And you think your love life is complicated?)

That setup is as contrived as it sounds, and Lars himself remains a cipher whose personality seems to morph according to the needs of the plot. One moment he's a semi-closet case, the next he's launching into a public monologue about Ernst Röhm, Hilter's gay right-hand man. It's a shame because Brotherhood has many powerful individual elements. Jimmy's gradual acceptance of his sexuality rings completely true, and the movie's portrait of the hate group is more believable and frightening than that in American History X. In the end though Brotherhood is a frustratingly mixed bag.

I Am Love screens 3/14 and 3/15; Brotherhood screens 3/27 and 3/31.