“I Am Love” (Io Sono L’amore)… At Last
By Sumaya Samarasinghe
I am love is the proof that good things often take a long time to reach a positive climax. For nearly a decade, lead actress Tilda Swinton and Director Luca Guadagnino worked on this project which eventually gave birth to a masterpiece of Italian cinema.
Movie aficionados will remember Visconti as they watch I Am Love. The iconic film director used to be brilliant at portraying the decadence amongst the rich and the burdens brought about by wealth. The colours and palatial settings are breathtaking just like in Visconti’s unforgettable features.
Guadagnino has also been inspired by master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock. One scene especially when Emma (Tilda Swinton) stops in San Remo and is trying to hide but yet watch Antonio from a bookstore, could be from a sequence taken out of Vertigo or Rear Window and even her very 1950’s dress sense triggers memories of Kim Novak and Grace Kelly. The film begins with the birthday dinner given in honour of Edoardo Sr. Recchi whose wealthy Milanese family is into textile manufacturing. The old man is ailing and decides to use the opportunity of this dinner to hand over the reigns to his son Tancredi and much to everyone’s surprise his grandson Edoardo Jr.
The dinner is an opening sequence which sets the dynamics of each character. Emma and Tancredi have three children. Edoardo Jr. seems sensitive, not the least bit business minded and more interested in building a life with Eva his girlfriend, whom he introduces to the family during this gathering. The second son Gianluca has been completely left out of the deal despite working for the family business. Elisabetta is the artistic daughter who has decided to go and study in London. She usually gifts one of her paintings to her grandfather on every birthday, but this time, Betta announces that she is trying out something different and presents him with a framed photo taken by her. This symbolic gesture will reflect the entire ambiance of the film and every family member of this seemingly perfect set up will have to live through and cope with some drastic changes.
The heroin is Emma. She is a loving and nurturing mother who is often left alone in her enormous house now that her three children are grown up or at college. Emma is Russian, but she has given up her roots to completely embody the personality of a wife and mother in a rich Italian home. She remains an outsider and though she orchestrates and throws lavish dinner parties, Emma often retires to her quarters and leaves the Recchis and their Italian partners to fight their battles without her.
On the day of the party, Edo Jr. receives the surprise visit of Antonio, a chef who beat him, on the same day, in some sporting race. Antonio has baked him a delicious cake and brings it to the residence. This is the first time Antonio and Emma meet and the sudden awakening of a woman who technically has nothing wrong going on in her life other than the fact that her children are grown up and her undemonstrative husband travels all the time, suddenly takes place.
Attracted to Antonio and their common love for cooking, Emma takes her future daughter in law Eva and her mother in law ( Tancredi’s much too young looking mother) to his restaurant and her feelings towards him are further enhanced by a delicious prawn dish he makes specially for her. That sequence is beautifully shot but this isn’t a “ Julie Julia” culinary movie. Food will be the catalyst to reach deeper emotions. The inevitable happens, Emma and Antonio become lovers while Edo Jr. is trying to oppose the sale of the family company though his father and younger brother want to get rid of the business.
The sets are beautiful and Milan and London are shown under their best angle. The scenes in the country side are so well shot that the viewer would just want to leap into the screen. I Am Love is not for all audiences. Apart from the ultra long love scenes between Emma and Antonio who does not come out as a particularly bright nor interesting lover but just someone who serves her immediate need to be looked at, and listened to, the film is your complete anti blockbuster.
Slow moving at times, this is a grandiose family drama where family traditions are destroyed and repressed characters are brought out to the open. Even the supporting cast, Elisabetta (the daughter) and Ida (the maid) though not having much on screen time are key characters in the story and are beautifully played by the talented Alba Rohrwacher and Maria Paiato.
Tilda Swinton is mesmerizing in her ability to express so little in words buy say so much through her facial expressions and body language. In an era of robots, transformers, psychotic heroes and gun totting individuals it takes guts to make a film like I Am Love which is a near perfect cinematic experience, at last.