I Am Love

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Luca Guadagnino

Starring

Edoardo Gabbriellini Flavio Parenti Tilda Swinton

Anticipation.

Tilda Swinton’s passion project places itself in unfamiliar territory.

Enjoyment.

Elegantly slow burning and simmering with style.

In Retrospect.

Its impression is not everlasting, but on first viewing this is elevating stuff.

Luca Guadagnino delivers a bold reclamation of the melodrama, spiked with fits of passion, lust and greed.

The common themes that underscore I Am Love may well be woven tightly into the tapestry of Italian cinema, but through a sequence of revelations and self-realisations, the Recchi family’s unravelling signifies revolution. In the midst of executive transition, the family’s existential crisis is as prominent as the Recchi name itself. It is a crisis that you sense has been building for some time, but has been suppressed by an old guard whose slackened grip is now allowing cracks to show.

Heir apparent to the Recchi empire is youngest son and black sheep Edoardo (Flavio Parenti), who is unwittingly thrust to the forefront of the family business ahead of his seemingly better suited siblings. Previously inhibited by his mother’s safeguarding, it is Edoardo’s sudden maturation that takes on a catalytic property, as Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) is left to consider how motherhood has hollowed out her marriage.

Inspired by the shock discovery of her daughter’s lesbianism, Emma turns her attentions to her own wellbeing. Abandoning the principles she has so carefully instilled in her children, she allows her mind to fix on an unfamiliar desire, which is unearthed when Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a friend of Edoardo’s, enters the fray.

In the neighbouring Alpine foothills, Antonio occupies a modest homestead; a rustic space away from the daily grind of city life where he is free to hone his culinary skills in unspoilt tranquillity. After sampling a taste of his salivating handiwork, Emma finds herself emotionally drawn towards Antonio.

She is completely and hopelessly seduced. Speeding down the path towards self-discovery, she starts to remember love, not as it has become to her, but what it once was. Her infatuation soon swells beyond obsession as they both yield to temptation.

Food is the language of love here, and as such those with a prurient disposition are likely to be left unfulfilled. Indeed, the first sexual encounter between Emma and Antonio is not physical, but rather metaphorical, manifesting in oral ecstasy as Emma participates in foreplay with a piece of cutlery.

What is so engaging is not just the way we are encouraged to respond to such exchanges, but how we are simultaneously forced to absorb the entire aesthetic of the film. With a yearning, lingering gaze, I Am Love soaks in its surroundings with a voyeuristic eye, poring over obscured Milanese backstreets and the impossible Lombardian vistas that lay beyond the great city.

Challenging the rhetoric of Italian cinema, patriarchal oppression is undermined by a newly empowered Mrs Recchi, whose adulterous actions may not make her a role model, but are contextually justified nonetheless. In a film of villains, Emma is an anti-heroine; no better, perhaps merely braver, than the rest of the family.

Reverting the negative connotations that have become affixed with theatrical cinema, I Am Love is a reclamation of the melodrama; its composed narrative spiked with fits of passion, lust and greed. Paced to John Adams’ stirring score, the action builds steadily before climaxing in a fierce crescendo, as Emma’s self-inflicted ultimatum plays out in a frenzied, operatic solo.

Published 19 Mar 2010

Tags: Luca Guadagnino Tilda Swinton

Anticipation.

Tilda Swinton’s passion project places itself in unfamiliar territory.

Enjoyment.

Elegantly slow burning and simmering with style.

In Retrospect.

Its impression is not everlasting, but on first viewing this is elevating stuff.

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