Starring the exquisitely talented Tilda Swinton, this is a beautiful film about tradition and transgression. Various members of a blue-blooded family are breaking the rules in their own ways, and while one (the son's marriage to a non-elite) is being accepted with good humor, the daughter's orientation is revealed only to those who can be trusted not to lash out at her. But it is the mother's love-affair with a man half her age that is the fulcrum of the film.
Metaphors abound in this film. Water in various forms signifying the freeze or flow of emotions, curtains as banishment, large and small doors as openings to another world, ...
In many traditions, a lustful mother is a reviled character, hated by her progeny for being anything else but a nurturer. In a strange twist later in the film, the cost and consequence of the mother's lust suddenly become larger than life, and it seems that she will not be able to withstand the pressure. Will she, won't she?
The idyllic scenes in the mountains reminded of the family outing of Stellet Licht. Civilization is a scaffolding of nature, and nature shown unadorned as plants, trees, insects, birds, and finally humans only serves to focus us on the gilded, crystallized, mannered unnaturalness of the other world.
This is also an interesting film on privilege and class. While a prince charming a humble maid is a fairy tale in almost all cultures, a servant charming the queen is almost always regarded as worthy of the harshest punishment. Without exception, honor killings in primitive societies involve the relationship of a humble man with a woman from a more privileged background.
The "man" is shown as an culinary aesthete, and I could not but help reflect that his almost feminine sensitivity or his refinement as a lover was (by a directorial touch, no doubt) balanced by his masculine disregard for his appearance, and his "truck" and his beard.
There are many moments of revelation and recognition in the film. And I loved the way nothing was said during those moments, but the nuanced facial expressions, the breaths, the self-conscious brushing of the hair, said it all.
This film reminded me of two other European films: The Celebration, and After the Wedding. Other reviewers have mentioned Visconti's The Leopard.
This film confirms my opinion about Tilda Swinton as an actress with an enormous range. Her character in Julia could not have been more different than in this, and both are different than the calculating, corporate woman of Michael Clayton. All three are stand-out performances.
Another slow, picturesque film with European sensibilities that I recently enjoyed was the thriller The American (Anton Corbijn, 2010).