I Am Love (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love” has a way of daring the audience to look past its beautiful facade and consider the quiet pains and longings of each character, even if one appears to be secondary to the plot, which likens that of looking at a painting and making our own interpretations—most appropriate because the Recchi family is drenched in a lavish Italian lifestyle, from the extravagant clothing to the rare art pieces hung on palatial walls. Like such luxurious items, these characters are to be regarded, perhaps even studied. And yet it is not an intellectual film; it is romantic, focused on providing an addictive sensory experience.
The work amplifies one of Tilda Swinton’s greatest strengths as a consummate performer: the ability to stand out from the environment while at the same time thoroughly belonging in it. Put her in the middle of busy-buzzing streets, inside mausoleum-like homes, or walking around bucolic terrain, she changes, with seeming ease, not only her face or body language but her entire sense of being. She demands that we pay attention—not necessarily to what her character is doing; rather, what she is feeling, thinking, or daydreaming. Emma Recchi, Russian by birth who chooses to “become Italian” but will never belong in her aristocratic Italian family, is a great curiosity, an enigma to be admired, like the Mona Lisa. I could not stop looking at her.
The director, who wrote the screenplay with Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo, and Walter Fasano, allows freedom in his work: the freedom to allow the viewers to breathe between the clan’s crucial life events, the freedom to feel a scope of emotions from simply catching a certain look or a meaningful glance, the freedom to look beyond the confines of what a film should be like. I refer to instances when Guadagnino decides to include details, in-between moments, that do not typically make it through the cutting room floor.
He is willing to show us people simply walking from one place to another without any punchline in the course of action. How servants move with urgency while preparing dinner. The rhythm of vehicles and pedestrians as the character in focal point undergoes great personal turmoil. How Emma derives pleasure from the food sitting in front of her; how she tastes it, savors it; how she fantasizes about how it might be like to be physically involved with the chef (Edoardo Gabbriellino) who created the orgasm that is exploding in her mouth and making its way through her senses. It is so beautiful, so refreshing, when filmmakers are free of constraints. What results is an original piece of work even though Guadagnino is clearly influenced by Italian films from the 1960s and 1970s when sudden zooms, handheld cameras, and intense close-ups were generously utilized.
While some may choose to detail the melodramatic plot, I decide to go the opposite direction because, in my eyes, this film is not about plot but about feeling. “Io sono l’amore,” like Guadagnino’s masterpiece “Call Me By Your Name,” places the viewer from the perspective of looking into a specific person’s intense personal memories and coming to understand how and why such life events shaped our protagonist, why he or she must surrender to his or her needs and have a shot at attaining happiness, contentment.