I Am Love
Dir: Luca Guadagnino
Taking cues from Italian masterpieces like The Leopard, Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love is a meal that features a few sumptuous first courses before delivering an oddly-seasoned main dish and a dessert with too much sugar. What begins as a family drama turns into an oddly fractured tale of feminine freedom from the vices of a traditionally patriarchal family.
The story centers on an upper class Milanese family. In the opening dinner sequence, set during a monochromatic snow flurry, we learn that the family’s head bequeaths his textile factory not only to his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), but his grandson Edo (Flavio Parenti), a liberal dreamer who is not cut from the same cloth as the rest of his traditionalist family that live in a lavish villa in the center of Milan.
However, Guadagnino is more interested in the family’s women. Emma (Tilda Swinton) is a Russian brought to Italy by Tancredi and has since completely lost her former identity; even her Russian name has been revoked. But her passion for life is awakened when she meets her son Edo’s friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a local chef who creates some of the most beautiful food ever captured on film. While Guadagnino includes the emergence of Emma’s daughter as a lesbian, the story mostly focuses on Swinton’s stripping away of her family’s icy shackles from her sexuality and freedom.
As a family drama, I Am Love operates on the level of a Visconti film. The opening sequences are deeply nuanced, with ceremony and opulence replacing warmth in the household. Unfortunately, as the narrative opens up to include Emma’s affair, the daughter’s awakening sexuality and Edo’s displeasure of the textile factory’s new direction (there is a second son but he is virtually ignored), I Am Love dares to not only eschew the austerity of the opening sequence but to alternate between flat-out bombast and ennui.
Most damaging of all is Guadagnino’s insistence to rely on camera trickery to tease out emotional highlights that could have easily been done with better performances. There are large gaps between scenes that unwisely ask the audience to fill in the narrative. I understand the point of elliptical filmmaking, but it just doesn’t work here. Worst of all is Emma and Antonio’s affair, which occurs in the bucolic hills of San Remo. Yes, we understand that beautiful nature is a world away from chilly Milan. But intercutting shots of the two rutting outdoors with close-ups of flowers and insects does not make a sensual love scene, only stresses the simplistic notion of wild love.
Unfortunately, the film’s last half hour is its worst. An accidental death and the subsequent funeral grind everything to a halt and then Guadagnino smacks us in the face with the most bombastic climax ever (disregard my hyperbole), featuring a lot of running around and booming brass instruments. For something that looks so good, I Am Love could have used a seasoning adjustment before hitting the kitchen table.