Release Date: Limited
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cinematographer: Yorick Le Saux
Writer: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini
The Recchi family, the powerful Italian clan at the core of Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love, is exclusive. Its wealth is nearly immeasurable, if not incomprehensible, and even marrying into it doesn’t warrant an invitation to its inner circle. Although Emma (Tilda Swinton) gave up her life in Russia—with the exception of her Russian accent, which she just can’t keep from tainting her Italian—in order to become a Recchi, she orbits the rest of the family alongside Ida, the servant.
It is in the Recchi villa, where the sense of propriety is nearly as tangible and cloying as its thick tapestries, that Emma meets Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), the close friend of her grown son Edoardo (Flavio Parenti). Antonio shows remarkable promise as a chef—with him, preparing and eating food is a sensual experience, which becomes increasingly evident as the film unfolds. Edoardo offers to help him open his own restaurant, a project that he remains invested in even after his grandfather leaves the family’s textile company in the hands of he and his father Tancredi (Pippo Delbono).
The early flirtations between Antonio and Emma are mild and cordial, but they yield a wild affair. While her husband and son are in London to deal with their newly-acquired business, Emma stays with Antonio in his isolated home in the country. She transforms in the space of a few days, speaking more at length about her move from Russia, trading her pearls for Antonio’s oversized clothing and allowing her new lover to chop off several inches of her hair.
The backdrop of the Italian countryside and the simple lifestyle the couple adopts make the affair seem natural. Even during the most sexually explicit scenes, the relationship between Antonio and Emma is clearly not about sex, but about the intimacy and connection they share, about Emma regaining her right to self-expression. But as is so often the case, lying becomes too complicated, and tragedy hits the seemingly unshakeable Recchis in the wake of Emma’s infidelity.
I Am Love is a beautiful film, and a lesson in storytelling. It unfolds at a leisurely but lovely pace, taking time to revel in the details of the setting but never shifting focus from its many rich, complex characters. Swinton becomes Emma, her every pore and follicle embodying passion, guilt and grief with equal conviction. Even in its most tense moments, I Am Love is like the many dishes Antonio shows off in the film—painstakingly created and never overdone.