I Am Love 10/07/08 2:58
Swinton plays Emma Recchi, the stylish and impeccably coiffed wife of an industrialist in modern-day Milan. We watch her carefully supervising every detail of an expensive dinner party given in honor of her father-in-law, the patriarch of an industrial empire who marks the occasion by formally bequeathing the business to his son, and to his eldest grandson Edoardo, one of Emma's three adult children. Everything seems right and in its place in this world of privilege, at least until Emma accidentally discovers that her daughter Betta has fallen in love with a woman. The mother is warm and supportive of her daughter's choice, and it seems to awaken a dormant longing in her own life. Along comes Edoardo's best friend Antonio, a brilliant chef seeking to open his own restaurant, and the dutiful wife and mother finds herself plunged into romantic obsession over the handsome young man.
From the film's first moments, we are presented with a visual design of satisfying richness. From the imposing old world architecture of Milan to the scenes in the Recchi household, Guadagnino composes his shots with precision, showing us long shaded perspectives illuminated at interesting points to maximum effect, and taking us into the deceptively serene world of wealth, with the many efficient servants moving among the smartly dressed upper-class family members. The mood is greatly heightened by the musical score, from the renowned minimalist composer John Adams, with its alluring rhythms evoking furtive emotions, then breaking out into fevered drama.
The theme of female sexual rebellion against the boundaries of class hasn't seemed new since Lady Chatterley, but here Tilda Swinton, with her unusual features and her ability to combine the conflicting traits of self-composure and intense emotionality, overrides the familiarity of the tale. One sequence where she spots her love object Antonio on a city street, and moves towards him as if compelled by a force greater than her will, is particularly fine. It's also interesting that the daughter's lesbian awakening helps to spur the mother to risk everything for the sake of love; an element that deepens the story's logic.
This is not the cloying romanticism of the average love story—I Am Love has a bite to it, a kind of ferocity that throws everything dull and ordinary into relief.