I Am Love (2010): Luca Guadagnino’s Sumptuous Art Film

Sumptuously mounted, Italian director Luca Guadagnino “I Am Love” is a European art film par excellence, boasting lavish costumes and sets, elaborate pacing, nuanced mise-en-scene, and occasionally, the kind of visual poetry and sensuous imagery seldom seen anymore even in European movies.
The film was an official selection at the 2009 Toronto and Venice Film Festivals and then played at the 2010 Sundance Film Fest. Magnolia releases this engaging melodrama June 18.
Set in Christmas time, the opening sequence, revealing a snow-covered Milan, is nothing short of breathtaking. This leads to a stunning house, the mansion of the wealthy Recchi family.
In a scene that evokes Visconti’s “The Leopard,” the narrative depicts a family gathering for a birthday dinner honoring the patriarch Edoardo Recchi Sr. Emma (Swinton), the elegant, repressed head of the household, is overseeing arrangements with the servants. A young man named Antonio arrives at the house to deliver a cake to Edo, and Emma is casually introduced to him.
Cursed by poor health, Edoardo Sr. plans to relinquish the reigns to the Recchi textile business. As everyone assumes that he will hand over the estate and business to his son Tancredi, when he announces that his grandson Edoardo Jr (Edo), Emma and Tancredi’s son, will have joint control, the guests are surprised, particularly that Gianluca, Edoardo’s brother, is left out of the deal.
Months later, Emma accidentally finds a note from her daughter Betta, living in London, to Edo, in which she reveals her love for another woman. Emma is beginning to feel estranged from her children, who pursue their own lives in which she is no longer included.
Meanwhile, Edo and Antonio are planning to launch their own restaurant, in what seems to be the perfect partnership, based on Antonio’s culinary flair d Edo’s business acumen. But Edo still needs to persuade Antonio’s restaurateur father to let them use his land. However, when Edoardo Sr dies, Tancredi decides that the best option for the Recchi family business is to sell it to the highest bidder.
Later on, Emma, her mother-in-law Allegra (‘Rori’), and Eva meet at Antonio’s restaurant for lunch, enchanted by his charm and his cuisine. When Emma congratulates him, he tells her about his house in Sanremo, the proposed site for his and Edo’s new restaurant.
Emma accepts Betta’s invitation to Nice for her exhibition. Stopping in Sanremo, she enjoys the sense of freedom that comes from being in a new place. Spotting Antonio in the street, she decides to follow him. Antonio invites her to his house to show her the place of his restaurant on a land that belongs to his grandfather. Emma is aroused when she spots Antonio getting changed and the couple kisses passionately.
Upon returning home, Emma can’t contain her elation and shock at what she has done, and her loneliness and isolation increasingly become unbearable. She goes to Sanremo to discuss the menu for tan upcoming dinner with Antonio. Unable to contain their passion, the couple heads to his house. Antonio tenderly undresses her and they have unbridled sex, after which
Antonio cuts Emma’s hair into a short bob. Becoming increasingly intimate with each other, Emma relates to Antonio her childhood in Russia.
Meanwhile, the Recchi men meet with a potential buyer in London. Edo opposes the sale in a desperate effort to cling to family tradition, but to no avail. Spurred on by the crushing events and a tragic accident, Emma admits her love for Antonio. Scandalized, Tancredi cuts her off of the family, but finally free from the shackles of her past, Emma looks forward to a new, liberated future.
In the lead, Tilda Swinton gives an extremely intelligent and compelling performance, one that elevates the drama above its melodramatic plotting and some silly, overheated sequences, which might be a result of lapse of taste or a director who’s too close to his material and his leading lady, for whom the picture was written.