Spellbinding I am Love

A Screen Comment favorite this year
Tilda Swinton, Edoardo Gabbriellini and Alba Rohrwacher
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Those longing for Fellini and Bergman, have I got a film for you. Everything about “I am love” is over-the-top and when the plot drags and the pounding John Adams soundtrack stops, the cinematography is breathtaking.

Tilda Swinton, who also produced and helped conceive the film with director Luca Guadagnino (this is the second time he directs Tilda Swinton— “The Protagonists” in 1999 was the first) stars as Emma Recchi, a Russian ex-pat who has married into a prestigious Milanese family. The story begins with a family dinner in which the patriarch, who is about to die, turns over the family textile business to Emma’s husband Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and son Edo (Flavio Parenti). Emma begins to realize, with her youngest child Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) leaving for college, that her duties as a mother have been fulfilled, and she feels at sea as to what to do next. This being an Italian art film, naturally the next thing she does is fall wildly, passionately, and inappropriately, in love.

Edo’s friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) is an ambitious young chef who shows up at the initial dinner party to drop off a cake he has made for the occasion. Emma is taken with him from the start; he’s a working-class boy who isn’t indoctrinated in the ways of the very rich and has genuine talent.

Even though Guadagnino takes every opportunity to make almost lurid comparisons between the writhing bodies and the bobbing flowers in Antonio’s field, somehow the film doesn’t feel self-indulgent or ridiculous. Rather, it’s contemplative in a way that few films are these days. Occasionally we are treated to an opportunity to stare at the lovely Italian countryside or an ancient statue; the lens moves in and out of focus, dreamily, mirroring Emma’s ethereal rapture with this newfound secret life.

There’s a great tragedy at the end of the film, of course—Emma’s life is ruined, her affair comes out, and she is all but banished from the Recchi family. The film starts to feel like a Greek tragedy or perhaps a lost Merchant/Ivory vehicle, its actions pre-ordained and inescapable. As the soundtrack comes to a throbbing crescendo, we realize what Emma is really about to do is escape—escape from everything that has defined her existence for decades, and finally, for the first time, make a life for herself.

While some may not know what to make of “I Am Love” in this day and age, when competing for an audience alongside of “Sex and the City 2,” I would highly recommend it. As always, Tilda Swinton is captivating in every corner of her performance; the supporting cast, particularly Rohrwacher, all give dedicated performances. Giving yourself over, as Emma does to her newfound zest for life, is simply thrilling.

Currently showing in theatres.

(pictured: Edoardo Gabbriellini and Tilda Swinton)