The enthusiastic reviews for I Am Love, a movie from director Luca Guadagnino, left me scratching me head. Where some saw a seductive drama about burgeoning passion -- augmented by an impressively high-strung performance from Tilda Swinton – I saw a movie that couldn’t seem to make up its mind whether to embrace the provocative ambiguities of art or the emotional oompah-pahs of melodrama.
Guadagnino has a strong visual sense and he knows how to create visual flourishes, but at its core, I Am Love seems a slightly loopy foray into one woman's sensual and sexual awakening.
Swinton’s Emma is a Russian-born woman who married a Milanese factory owner and art collector. Emma moved to Milan with her new husband, jettisoned her Russian identity and spent most of her time playing the role of wealthy matriarch to her well-situated husband and their two children.
The movie begins interestingly enough. The patriarch of the Recchi family (Gabriele Ferzetti) decides to retire, announcing his decision at a birthday dinner.
Instead of turning the family textile business over to his son (Pippo Delbono), the old man makes a split decision. He declares that both his son and his grandson Edo (Flavio Parenti) will share leadership of the company, a move that puts Emma in the somewhat awkward position of needing to support both her husband and her son. She’s also trying to be supportive of her daughter Elizabetta (Alba Rohrwacher), a young woman who recently has fallen in love with another woman and has begun to pursue a gay life.
Enter the twist on which the movie turns. Edo introduces his mother to Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a gifted chef but not a member of the social elite. Edo and Antonio plan to open a restaurant.
When mom samples one of Edo’s dishes, her senses awaken. It doesn’t take long before Emma wants more than a good meal. Antonio learns that the way to Emma’s heart is through her taste buds, and the movie becomes a wild ride in which Emma gives birth to the desires she’s evidently suppressed for most of her adult life.
On a recent Charlie Rose show, Rose suggested that Swinton – with a punkish haircut that looked like the work of a drunken barber – might be able to play David Bowie. Swinton said she was playing Bowie at that very moment. The playful exchange between Rose and Swinton suggests the slightly androgynous edge that Swinton sometimes gives her characters, an ability accentuated by a face that makes no secret of its bone structure.
Here, she plays her cards close to the vest. She’s portraying a woman who’s discovering herself, and taking the discovery quite seriously.
Guadagnino – who developed the screenplay with Swinton – jams the movie with
currents and crosscurrent. I Am Love can’t really accommodate all the bourgeoning passion, some of which is presented with too much art-house pretension for my taste.
The melodrama mounts, Emma warms to the point overheating, and the movie proceeds on a journey that has taken some critics’ breath away and made the eyes of others roll. I leaned rather heavily, I'm afraid, in the direction of eye rolling.
I Am Love opens in Denver July 2, and currently is making its way around the country.