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I Am Love (2010) ***

June 28, 2010


written by: Luca Guadagnino & Barbara Alberti
produced by: Luca Guadagnino & Tilda Swinton
directed by: Luca Guadagnino
rated R (for sexuality and nudity)
120 min.
U.S. release date: June 25, 2010 (wide)
I have to say it….Oscar-winning actress, Tilda Swinton, often looks like David Bowie to me with her sculpted cheekbones, slicked-backed hair and piercing gaze. That’s just an observation of an oddity and in no way diminishes Swinton’s capacity to intoxicate an audience with her talents and the characters she embodies. She is clearly one of the most original and intriguing actors working today. In her new film, “I Am Love”, an undeniably attractive love story set in Italy, her Bowie only comes out toward the end, when the story has come to its inevitable and emotional unraveling. Until then, a passionate Swinton can be found surrounded by a seemingly content life of monochromatic monotony, in a melodrama that is about to take an inevitable tragic turn.
“Io sono l’amore”, the film’s Italian title, provides artfully bold images of picturesque cities and countryside that parallel the emotions portrayed on-screen. From the cold, stark winters of Milan to the colorfully bright springs in Sanremo, director Luca Guadagino crafts a film that shows how human emotions are just as precarious. It’s a film that will either instantly absorb viewers with its quiet sequences accompanied by an eccentric score by John Adams, or will understandly albeit undeservedly, repel them. I was taken by it though and its lush levels of visual passion that more than made up for its sparse characterization.

It’s time for the patriarch of the Recchi family to pass the torch on to the next generation in respect to their successful textile business. That responsibility is bestowed to both Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and his son,  Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) as the family looks at what direction the company can go in the new millennium. Tancredi’s wife, Emma (Tilda Swinton) looks on at a pivotal time with a supportive smile as she quietly dismisses herself early from the family’s festivities, retreated to her own room in their vast mansion. It becomes obvious that like many who marry into a large inclusive family, there’s difficulty in maintaining any sense of individuality.  

Russian-born Emma is aware of such challenges and as she sees her children embrace their desires and the reality of who they truly are, something awakens in her. It’s an awakening assisted by Edoardo’s friend and hopeful business partner, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini),  a passionate chef who woos Emma with his sensual culinary abilities. He represents a freedom and peace that attracts Emma, elements she is lacking in her life. The two soon begin an intense affair that allows Emma to embrace her desires yet the cost of this newfound love is tragic, causing irreversible damage to the entire family.    



It’s no revelation to see a film that focuses on a filthy-rich Italian family with their traditions, expectations and emotional impotency. This film sheds no new light on any family dynamic nor does it offer a script that delves into these characters all that much. Instead, Guadagnino and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux invest an extended amount of time periods constructing the mood of impending doom that is facing the future of the family. Through continuous but not pretentious camerawork, we follow seemingly random shots that bring together a visually alive viewing experience.   

Once you give into the fact that the strength of the film lies in its visual delights, the faster you will be swept away by its rich color palette and exquisite locations. Unfortunately, it demands a patience that not every viewer has, in fact in the screening I attended there were several people walking out within the first twenty-five minutes. That’s not something you see all the time. It’s too bad they felt the urge to leave instead of  giving into the intoxicating sound and vision provided. They certainly missed out on a strong and committed performance by Swinton, who continues to entrance us with her boldness. 

As Emma, Swinton has quite a character arch to tackle in this melodrama. From reserved in her extravagant wardrobe to unbridled nakedness, she concludes the film with an emotionally unhinged exit. And if you invested yourself in this film the way I did, you’re with her every step of the way. It’s obvious that Swinton had been invested in the this project  with Guadagnino for the past decade. Not only does she master the Italian language but she has to do so as a Russian speaking Italian. Not an easy task. On top of that, she does this while baring it all both physically and emotionally. While Guadagnino tends to go on in length a bit longer than necessary, this remains a compelling examination of aching emotion and the disastrous results of selfish abandon. It may not be for everyone, but it remains a memorable and unique cinematic experience on many levels.


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