Review by © Jane Freebury
There’s something about Tilda Swinton. The way she looks and the characters she plays have an ethereal quality, like something from far away or long ago. With her alabaster skin and dark green eyes fringed by pale brows and lashes, she was Narnia’s White Witch incarnate. And when we first noticed her in Sally Potter’s Orlando she was an Elizabethan nobleman who lived for centuries and morphed into a female. You know what I mean.
Here she is Emma Recchi, the perfect matriarch in a fabulously wealthy Italian dynasty, orchestrating family occasions like a maestro, as her extended family and servants glide around her. Everything is perfetto in her Milan villa, and she enjoys good relations with everyone from her husband to her grown-up children and her staff.
She even manages to rub along with her mother-in-law, played by Marisa Berenson, who looked so lovely in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, but now appears a veteran of a few facelifts too many.
There is however nothing plastic about Swinton’s Emma. She is the real deal – genuine, kind, loving, and attentive – and especially close to her daughter, who confides in her that she is gay, and son Edoardo (Flavio Parenti). He has plans to run a restaurant with his good friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), in between helping his father manage the family fortune.
The restaurant idea is not just some cash cow for the city’s wealthy, but a risky venture out of town that patrons will have to make an effort to reach. When they do, it will be worth it, because Antonio’s food is sensational.
In a scene with a loud and insistent score that you will think is either overwrought or mock serious, Antonio’s succulent prawn dish unlocks Emma’s passionate heart and precipitates a clandestine affair that precipitates family tragedy. It’s one of a number of occasions when the former advert director in writer-director Luca Guadagnino gets the better of him.
And yet, for all the ecstatic lovemaking al fresco, I Am Love is not so much a story about crazy love as it is a story that captures a grand old establishment family teetering on the brink when the world is ripe for change.
With its fabulous visuals and intrusive score, it is an operatic film, as fond of the fabulous art deco architecture of establishment Milan, as it is of Swinton’s unusual and striking appearance. And yes, her character is from somewhere else in this movie too.
I Am Love has something in common with those flamboyant melodramas from Hollywood by director Douglas Sirk or even the televisions series Dynasty and Dallas. But clearly, it isn’t just froth. It has a turn-of-the-century point to make.
In a capsule: Tilda Swinton in another iconic role as the centrepiece of a fabulously wealthy Milanese family who falls in love with a young chef. A flamboyant melodrama, with a point to make.