I Am Love
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Written by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parente, Edoardo Gabbriellini, and Alba Rohrwacher
Amid the beautiful interiors, finely prepared meals, and meticulously planned out wardrobes, a human element emerges. I Am Love, the beautifully written, filmed, and acted drama from Luca Guadagnino, is obsessed not only with its elegant, finely tuned surface, but the emotions that boil just beneath it as well.
The age of the horrific Katherine Heigl rom-com doesn’t exist yet in this film, which chronicles the Recchis, a wealthy Italian family, and the Russian black sheep who married into it at the turn of the millennium. Every day, Emma (Tilda Swinton) must suit up in a differently colored, yet similar-looking dress and perform the functions of an everyday aristocrat.
Her complacency and contentedness is so convincing at first that when actual glee emerges at the opportunity to try her hand at cooking with the new house chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), it’s almost shocking. The events that follow, an intensely passionate affair with this cook, actually is shocking.
There is simply no actress working today who could’ve given Emma such a sublime characterization as Tilda Swinton. Her continuing triumphs further cement her place among the greatest performers working today. She follows up her role in Julia, where she played an extroverted alcoholic with rage issues, with this finely tuned, subtle performance, which also has her speaking flawless Italian with a disguised Russian dialect.
The Academy awarded her for Michael Clayton and snubbed her for Julia, they need to at least give her a nomination for this. You believe her in any situation the movie places her in, and that her relationships with all the characters could exist off-screen as well.
Also great is Flavio Parente as Emma’s son Edoardo. The movie’s time line finds him in the act of becoming another black sheep in the family, and his character’s tragic arc is compelling because of Parente’s restrained performance.
The only other standout is Edoardo Gabbriellini as Antonio. You can feel the sparks between the two fly from their initial meeting, to their excursion in the mountains. The rest of the cast blends in perfectly with the world this movie creates, which isn’t really a compliment to them as much as the director.
Audiences have certain expectations of romantic films, which Mr. Guadagnino is more than happy to subvert. The key difference between I Am Love and almost any other modern romance is its insistence on keeping it real rather than pummeling the audience with clever dialogue. Here, insight comes from action and reaction.
The conventions of the plot, which at its simplest sounds like an Italian version of American Beauty combined with Atonement, are overshadowed by the terrifically paced screenplay and the beautifully photographed sets and exteriors.
Emma is at a midlife crisis, one that she doesn’t discover until Antonio slyly lures her away to the site where he and her son Edoardo (Flavio Parente) will build a restaurant. Then, the frame in complete blur so that we can only see the character’s outlines, they merge and become one.
The sexual odyssey and mission of reclaiming lost identity in the movie’s second half lies in stark contrast to the first, where everything remains finely veneered and almost too perfect. The clashing of these two worlds are connected by not only the protagonist, but food as well.
Food is sex, and by extension love in this film. It is a meal of prawns, shown in an astonishingly erotic extreme close-up sequence, that lets Emma know her heart’s desire. From there, it’s only a matter of time before her bourgeois hypnosis wears off.
Mapping out this entire movie and talking about its visuals simply doesn’t do it justice. Guadagnino, who also wrote the screenplay, creates a world filled with beautiful paintings, architecture, and music (the score for this movie also deserves an Oscar nomination.) Inside this canvas he creates a thouroughly convincing and compellingly offbeat drama, one that many audiences won’t recognize as a love story simply because of the evil spell Hollywood has cast over them.
I Am Love is that rare movie that you can relate to simply because you’re human. It’s about the struggle to claim an identity in a world that hands you one, and the quest to find happiness and fulfillment among the others who, though they may not know it yet, are looking for the exact same thing.
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