I Am Love, 2009

With its baroque interiors and saturated compositions, Luca Guadagnino’s sprawling I Am Love recalls the melodramas of Luchino Visconti in its lush and operatic, if oddly clinical and overwrought treatise on passion, identity, and destiny. And like Visconti’s The Leopard, a majestic dinner party also foretells the end of a way of life: the retirement of Milanese textile magnate, Edoardo Recchi (Gabriele Ferzetti) and his decision to cede the reins of the family business to his son, Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) as well as Tancredi’s oldest son, Edo (Flavio Parenti). With her husband and son now immersed in the day-to-day operations of the company and her only daughter, Betta (Alba Rohrwacher) studying abroad, Tancredi’s Russian-born wife, Emma (Tilda Swinton) is confronted with the isolation and boredom of her increasingly empty, well-appointed household (in one episode, Emma tries to engage her attendant, Ida [Maria Paiato] in a conversation, but is respectfully cut short, mindful of their class difference). Embarking on an extended holiday through the Italian countryside en route to Betta’s photography exhibition, Emma’s senses are soon re-awakened by the change of scenery, and with it, a newfound liberation and resurfaced identity away from the Recchi clan. Guadagnino deploys an arsenal of familiar, allusive, piecemeal plots in lieu of a tightly woven narrative to convey Emma’s rekindled passion and reconnection to her past (including the use of an intrusive, swollen musical soundtrack): the equation of food with the senses (Alfonso Arau’s Like Water for Chocolate), the coupling in the wilderness as a reflection of essential human desire (Bruno Dumont’s The Life of Jesus), the tragedy of discovery and rejection (Louis Malle’s Damage). Rather than a modern day take on the classical melodrama by interweaving storytelling and evocative imagery, I Am Love proves to be as fragile and diffused as the façade of its hermetic, carefully constructed beautiful world.

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