115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Melodramatic Minimalism: Music and History in Guadagnino’s Io sono l’amore

Marina Romani, University of California, Berkeley

In the Italian cinematic repertoire, film melodramas have engaged with the socio-political history of the nation, weaving the fabric of an elusive collective memory. Through the pervasive presence of John Adams’ minimalist score, Io sono l’amore's relationship to its operatic scaffolding becomes oblique. The narrative flirts with the boundary between aesthetic conformity and ideological critique, creating a thematic and aesthetic disturbance in the aural, visual, and political history of Italy.

Proposal: 

Melodrama – as a theatre practice, as a descriptive category, as a mode of imagination – can be a space for re-elaboration of historical memory. In the Italian cinematic repertoire, film melodramas have engaged with the socio-political history of the nation, and have contributed to mapping an imaginative territory, weaving the fabric of an elusive collective memory. The aural component – and most noticeable filmic element – of the melodramatic imagination in Italian cinema has often been represented by the music of 19th-century opera. This is true not only in terms of operatic influences in film scores, but also in the way that Italian opera has played a significant role in Italian cinema. In particular, the presence of operatic music has become a trope and a cultural signifier, both when used in the film music score and when used diegetically, from early cinema to Fascist propagandist dystopias, from Luchino Visconti’s historical fictions to 21st-century variations on Italian history such as those by Mario Martone and Marco Bellocchio. But what happens when the operatic soundtrack and its role in the aesthetic economy of the film is evoked, not through the use of 19th-century operatic music per se, but through a game of semiotic displacement that involves all of the films’ technical and expressive features? Luca Guadagnino explored this possibility in his third feature film and first internationally released work, Io sono l’amore (2009). This film is grounded in operatic territory, from its very title – a quote from Umberto Giordano’s verismo opera André Chénier (1896) to a post-modern web of references within the mise-en-scene and aesthetic choices. In other words, this film self-consciously mobilizes a melodramatic tradition, both as a mode and as an operatic genre. Yet, at the level of musical engagement, the film’s relationship to its theatrical scaffolding becomes oblique, flirting with the boundary between aesthetic conformity and ideological critique. This ambiguous position is due to the pervasive presence of minimalist music by American composer John Adams in the film’s non-diegetic soundscape. I argue that, precisely through its soundscape, Io sono l’amore articulates its relation to Italian cinematic and political history. Different musical registers communicate and interact with the temporality of the film and serve to place it within the history of Italian cinema. While self-consciously cannibalizing melodramatic modes of expression (19th-century opera, theatrical aesthetic, cinematic melodrama), and through a reconfiguration of the connection between images and sound, John Adams’ minimalist – and as I will argue, non-gestural – music becomes operatic in function. Moreover, the music violently brings the story to an aesthetic and ideological present that many of the elements in the film struggle to re-incorporate in a polished, manufactured history of the nation. In this way, the film’s melodramatic narrative creates a thematic and aesthetic disturbance in the political and cinematic history of Italy.

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