A sweeping romance poetically directed and brilliantly acted.
The romantic drama genre is one that is often overlooked in favour of
rom-coms with predictable plots and stereotypical characters. I Am Love is a hark back to sweeping romances of the golden era of cinema. Films like Casablanca (1942) and Brief Encounter
(1945) are rarely produced in modern cinema and yet when done well they
can rekindle film’s love affair with love itself. It is an appropriate
title then that perfectly captures the essence of romance in I Am Love.
Emma (Swinton), a Russian immigrant to Italy, is the matriarch
of the Recchi family who have made their fortune in textiles in the
heart of Milan. When her son Edoardo (Parenti) brings his chef friend Antonio (Gabbriellini)
home one evening Emma is captivated by his back to basics lifestyle. As
the family’s problems begin to rise both in the personal and business
sense, Emma begins to find the freedom she has longed for.
The world of the Recchi family is etched in tradition. They are like
the family in The Godfather, the Corleones, with their family hierarchy
constantly in a state of flux. Emma is crucial to this dynamic but also
very much alien to it. She is not Italian and therefore, although she
understands their ways and has integrated herself into them, she is
still an outsider looking in. While her Italian is perfect she still
revels in her Russian heritage and in particular her cooking, which only
helps draw her and Antonio closer together.
While the family rests on its customs Emma begins to see that
breaking with convention can be liberating. When she learns that her
daughter Elisabetta (Rohrwacher) is gay, rather then tell the other members of the family she delights in her happiness. To this degree, I Am Love is all about indulgence, a freeing
of the shackles of society. It is only when Emma starts up her affair
that she begins to come out of her shell and enjoy life rather than
simply perform her role as the level head of the family.
Writer-director Guadagino, whose previous work includes Melissa P
(2005), deliberately directs in a languid and unorthodox manner. Often,
he is happy for his camera to lose focus on a character to highlight
the absent minded ways they drift through their lives. It is a clever
technique to gradually draw you into the mindset of this privileged
ensemble. He is beautifully aided by Yorick Le Saux’s mesmerising cinematography that
captures much of Guadagino’s subtext to wonderful effect. Every detail
captured is significant to the characters’ emotions. It is no wonder
Guadagino is producing a remake of Dario Argento’s subtext riddled Suspiria (1977).
While various characters flit in and out of the film, central to its seduction is a brilliant Tilda Swinton. An actress who never shies away from a challenge
but runs head first towards it, Swinton has never conformed to the
obvious roles that Hollywood would no doubt like her to play. As Emma,
she is majestic and vulnerable without ever painting the character in
broad strokes. She conveys oceans of emotion in the simplest, yet
effective, of nuances. There is something of an old soul behind
Swinton’s eyes and here she utilises it to impact her character with an
Although the end descends into melodrama, I Am Love is an evocative
look at a repression set free. Both Swinton and Guadagino excel in
bringing the Recchi’s world to life and then systematically breaking it
apart. It may be too indulgent for some but those who are passionate about intelligent cinema will fall in love with I Am Love.