I Am Love

22 Feb

Director: Luca Guadagnino (2009)

When it comes to preparing for a movie role, usually we are talking a bit of character research, maybe a hair cut, some slight weight alteration – it is not all that usual for a director to ask you to learn a new language. And then learn to speak it in another accent. The accent of a language you don’t even speak. But this is what the admirably committed Tilda Swinton did for her lead role in I Am Love, learning Italian – with a Russian accent to play the part of Emma Recchi, a Russian whose marriage to a rich Milano places her at the centre of the Italian high-life.

I Am Love is an epic family drama following the lives of the Recchi family, a rich textile manufacturer whose patriarch, Edoardo Snr announces his retirement from the family business at his grandson’s birthday dinner. Handing the reigns over to his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and birthday boy, Edoardo Jnr (Flavio Parenti), the Recchi’s soon find themselves feeling the cold winds of change and discovering the disruptive power of passion.

Despite his promotion, Edoardo Jnr has other aspirations, namely to open a restaurant with his friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a talented and handsome young chef whose talents in the kitchen begin to stoke his friend’s mother’s fire. So to speak.

As with any family drama/hopelessly elegant soap opera, their relationship develops as one would expect. However despite the copious amounts of soft focus sex scenes and surprise lady full frontal, the film manages to resist any cheapness in their affair instead allowing us to grow to understand Emma’s reasons through a subtle exploration of her character. Emma shows an aching softness towards her family, particularly her closeted daughter, Betta, and to her maid, Ida, yet her looks, her voice, her demeanour is somehow different to her Italian family. Despite their obvious reciprocal love – she is an alien. (Poor Tilda, typecast again).

The serenity and graceful demeanour Emma is removed as swiftly as her cotton twin sets, as their first encounter transforms her into a breathless, giddy school girl, running to the bathroom flushed with joy and excitement, temporarily oblivious to the can of worms she has inevitably just opened. She becomes vulnerable, and while there isn’t any real evidence her marriage with Tancredi is an unhappy one, we want to see her letting herself exhale.

The blurry, soft focus camera work spares our blushes as Emma and Antonio become one with nature in Antonio’s garden provoking a calming eroticism which makes you want to run away to a remote hillside retreat with a bearded Italian chef who will feed you prawns and fresh vegetables until you are so fat you have no choice but to stay there for eternity…

John Adam’s operatic score perfectly captures the tenderness and crescendoing passion of their lust and later love adding to the architecture of the film. Like the grand buildings of Milan itself, the film is expertly crafted with elegance in both the styling and the cast’s performance. Quietly building to the hopeful sadness of the film’s climax like a gently simmering broth in a delicious oucha, I Am Love will leave you hankering for seconds.

What? So Guadagnino can use food metaphors and I can’t?

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