A compelling family portrait, finely etched
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, June 25, 2010
"I Am Love" is such a lush, deeply textured banquet of sights and sounds that it deserves more than a movie review. Carefully composed and framed, gorgeously appointed, superbly choreographed and accompanied by a thrilling musical score, it would no doubt provide rewarding fodder for critics of art, design, fashion, dance and music. As a full-on celebration of beauty in all its forms, this gem of a contemporary melodrama invites viewers to plunge into a world of unerring taste and luxury, where even tragedy comes softly when it inevitably arrives.
"I Am Love" opens on a snowy evening in Milan, where the wealthy Recchi family has gathered for the birthday of their elderly patriarch, Edoardo (Gabriele Ferzetti). At a dinner overseen with prim propriety by his daughter-in-law Emma (Tilda Swinton), the old man tells the assembled guests that he is handing over the family textile business to his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and Emma and Tancredi's eldest son, Edo (Flavio Parenti).
Is that a look of alarm that passes across Emma's face when Edo's grandfather makes his announcement? And just what events are set in motion when an acquaintance of her son stops by with an impromptu gift? "I Am Love," which was co-written and directed by Luca Guadagnino, lets its mysteries play out with supreme assurance and a besotted eye for aesthetic pleasures, from Emma's perfect wardrobe (Jil Sander and Fendi) and the Recchis' austere mid-century mansion to John Adams's unapologetically theatrical score.
It comes to pass that Emma isn't Italian but Russian, a provenance with unmistakable literary echoes for Guadagnino. He's also clearly inspired by such classic meditations on the Italian bourgeoisie and passing of epochs as "The Leopard" and "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis."
But the artist he's truly heir to is Douglas Sirk, that 1950s master of heightened emotion, domestic strife and glistening surfaces to whom many have paid homage (most recently Todd Haynes and Tom Ford), but few with Guadagnino's innate understanding of how material culture -- by way of costumes, production design, hair and makeup -- can provide a narrative line every bit as expressive and meaningful as plot and dialogue.
With "I Am Love," this promising director makes the most of a medium too often straitjacketed into shots of people talking to one another, using it to lead viewers to an entirely new realm of the senses, with unsettling, intoxicating results.
Contains sexuality and nudity. In Italian and Russian with English subtitles.