This intense and almost operatic Italian family melodrama recalls the best of Douglas Sirk. Tilda Swinton's stellar presence commands attention even competing with a sumptuous Art Deco villa in '50s Milan. I Am Love oozes elegance, emotion, style and wit, all of which should ensure a life beyond the obvious arthouse connoisseurs.
It all begins with a lavish birthday celebration for an ageing Italian industrialist whose family and friends gather for dinner. He has agreed to give up the business and the assembled throng awaits news of a successor with baited anticipation.
The occasion, however, proves the catalyst for a series of events that will change many of the guests' lives irrevocably. The coolly elegant Tilda Swinton (as Emma, whom we later learn is a Russian immigrant) meets her son's friend, Antonio (played by Edoardo Gabbriellini), and the pair embark on an illicit affair.
Antonio is a chef who proves as passionate about his craft as any tantrum-prone artist or musician. The film is suffused with lingering shots of his appetizing culinary creations. Besides celebrating food, Yorick Le Saux's camera also has an eye for the male and female forms, the surrounding scenery, architecture and repressed emotions yearning for release. Unsurprisingly, the affair rekindles Emma's lease on life and passion. She may not be the most sympathetic character but Swinton (one of the co-producers) makes her consistently and convincingly interesting.
In the wrong hands, these agonies of the rich and indolent might have tested our collective patience, but the director, Luca Guadagnino (also one of the producers and screenwriters), works wonders with the script and also elicits superb performances from Marisa Berenson as the patriarch's wife, Maria Paiato as the housekeeper and Alba Rohrwacher as the liberated daughter.
Besides the obvious cinematic referencing to Douglas Sirk (clearly present in the music by Oscar winning composer John Adams) there are echoes of such Italian masterpieces as Luchino Visconti's The Damned and Death in Venice, as well as Pier Paolo Pasolini's Theorem-and, of course, almost anything by Antonioni.
The rolling Italian countryside is the perfect side dish to the accomplished acting on display—the gentle hills, twisty roads and hazy, dream-like light simply seduce and satiate all the senses.
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbono, Maria Paiato and Marisa Berenson
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Screenwriters: Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo, Walter Fasano and Luca Guadagnino
Producers: Luca Guadagnino, Tilda Swinton, Alessandro Usai, Francesco Melzi d'Eril, Marco Morabito and Massimiliano Violante.
Genre: Romantic drama; Italian-, Russian- and English-languages, subtitled
Rating: R for sexuality and nudity.
Running time: 119 min.
Release date: June 18 NY/LA, June 25 Exp.