sat 29/02/2020

I Am Love | reviews, news & interviews

I Am Love

I Am Love

Tilda Swinton glistens in a baroque saga of love and death amid the Milanese upper crust

A red-robed Tilda Swinton flanked by the Recchi clan in I Am Love

Somehow the title sounds more sonorous in Italian. Io Sono l'Amore is a big, fat, full-blown melodrama, a film with the button marked "passione" forced up to 11. It looks exquisite, is a glittering showcase for Tilda Swinton as the restless Russian trophy wife of a wealthy Milanese industrialist and is elegant in spades: the cuisine, the couture, the shoes, the decor, the diamonds, the lipstick, they're all to die for. So what if it's also just a bit kitschy around the edges?

The film, by the hitherto little-known Sicilian director/co-writer Luca Guadagnino, opens in style with a series of high-angle, monochrome shots of the snow-covered Milan skyline and a retro credit sequence that gloriously evokes the lost world of 1940s cinema. The jittery score, taken from the work of the American composer John Adams, wasn't written specifically for I Am Love, but it seems perfectly fitted to it (it's the first time Adams has allowed his music to be used in a movie).

The focus shuts down quickly as the film proceeds into a much smaller, more intimate story

In a sumptuous villa, we're plunged instantly, a little confusingly, into the preparations for a formal dinner. There are many comings and goings, much bustling around; people are glimpsed quickly through doorways or disappearing up stairs, around corners. Who are they all? Gradually Swinton's character emerges as the hostess, presiding over the evening with a brittle mix of graciousness and anxiety.

At the climax of the evening the ailing patriarch of the Recchi clan makes an announcement: he controversially intends to divide his textile empire, Lear-like, between his son, Swinton's husband (Pippo Delbono), and one of his grandsons, Edoardo (Flavio Parenti). Edoardo, meanwhile, has plans of his own, to set up an exclusive restaurant with a friend, Antonio, a talented chef (Edoardo Gabbriellini). Shortly thereafter Swinton's daughter, a free-spirited artist, drops another bombshell: she is in love with another woman. Contemplating an empty nest and a sterile marriage, Swinton begins a wild affair with Antonio, whose gourmet cooking launches her on orgiastic waves of pleasure. It's bound to end badly, of course.

All of which makes I Am Love sound immensely complex, an epic dynastic saga with deliberate echoes of Luchino Visconti's The Leopard or Twilight of the Gods (or even The Godfather). This is not the case: the focus shuts down quickly as the film proceeds into a much smaller, more intimate story. I Am Love was written for Swinton (playing most of her scenes in Italian), who also acts as co-producer and has worked on the project for 11 years. And hers remains the only properly developed character. Emma's husband barely gets the time of day, her son is sketchy (they speak Russian together at the film's climax suggesting a special bond that's never elsewhere indicated) and her daughter - whose rebellion is the catalyst for everything - flits by with scant screen time.

Watch the trailer to I Am Love

Especially woolly is a plot strand concerning the sale of the family business to some undefined multi-national conglomerate: in these scenes, set in London, it's never clear exactly what's at stake. I Am Love is what it says on the tin, the story of a love affair; and, just as you're thinking how classy it was to evoke this with a single, brief out-of-focus kiss, Guadagnino treats us to the full monty: al fresco love-making with close-ups of pollinated flowers and the birds and bees all chirping and buzzing to beat the band. Even DH Lawrence might have found it just a little over the top.

Which is not to say that this is not also an outrageously sensuous and enjoyable film, provided only that you indulge its excess and the nerve with which it sails out on the very crest of bathos. One weighty symbolic subplot involves an old Russian recipe for oucha, or fish soup, and turns on the immortal line,"The broth must be clear!" Love it or loathe it.

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