Review: I Am Love

Io sono l’amore | Luca Guadagnino, 2010

Most of the time when a movie is said to be all about style over substance, melodramatic, and over-the-top, it means that they are not good. Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love is one of these movies. Yet, it is one of the few movies that are better because of it. It tells a simple story, but it just feels grand and old fashioned, yet with some modern sensibilities. I just loved every minutes of this movie.

Like I said, the story is simple. The first scene in involves Emma (the great Tilda Swinton) and she is in charge of preparing a birthday dinner for Edoardo Recchi, Sr (Gabriele Ferzetti) the patriarch of the Recchi family, who has built his fortune from a textile factory dating back to before World War II. Emma is married to Mr. Recchi’s son, Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), and he brought her to Italy from Russia, and she loves food. That day, she meets her son Edoardo’s (Flavio Parenti) friend, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbrillini), who happens to be a chef.

Then we fast forward to a couple of months later, Recchi, Sr passed away, and his son and grandson were left in charge of the company. Tancredi wants to make the company go global, while Edoardo wants things to be left the way his grandfather wanted. He is also joining Antonio in a venture to open a restarant where they would serve his exotic foods. Meanwhile, Emma has a sexual awakening after finding a letter that her daughter Betta (Alba Rohrwacher) wrote to her brother Edoardo saying that she is a lesbian. That combined with her having to deal with Antonio due to her son’s upcoming restaurant and the parties that they throw, make her fall in love with him, and so the drama begins.

As you can see, there is not much to the story that we have never seen before. But the story is only part of what we are watching the movie for. For example, I bet most people (including me) only saw this movie because Tilda Swinton is in it and because she is speaking italian. And on that front, the movie completely delivers. She is playing a woman who only has maids to keep her company. Her husband is alway too busy with the business, her children have their own lives, although they do love her, and when the whole family is gathered, although they respect her, she understands that she will never be part of the Recchi clan. And Swinton plays all this perfectly. She is reserved and quient, but once her affair with Antonio starts, she is a completely different person. She is more relaxed has more freedom, and thanks to the great actress that is playing Emma, everything seems so believable. The best performance of the year so far, and if there was any justice in the world, she would get an Oscar nomination.

Everything else is equally grand, particularly Guadagnino’s work and how it affected the overall feeling of the film. One of the biggest things people complain about is the obvious symbolism. For example, when Emma and Antonio finally have sex, it is intercut with pictures of nature. Obviously it symbolizes the beauty of what they are doing and Emma’s sexual rebirth, but I had no problem with it. Obvious yes, but without it the sex would have been way too gratuitous. Also, when Emma tries Antonio’s shrimp dish for the first time, the lighting changes to emphasize that for Emma, nothing else in the world matters. Obvious, yes, but it works. It works especially because of Yorick Le Saux gorgeous cinematography that captures the sun drenched vistas of italian cities and the country side.

The rest of the production is equally great. The costumes are gorgeous and live up to what we would expect to see rich italians wearing. Although I bet it was mostly shot on location, the art directors did a great job of adapting things to fit the movie. The sometimes-chaotic editing is superb. And John Adams’ bombastic score (while not entirely original) is a joy to listen to.

In case you hadn’t figured it out from the review, for my money I Am Love is one of my absolute favorites of the year.

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