I Am Love -- Film Review

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Tilda Swinton carries Luca Guadagnino's risky, ambitious melodrama.

Luca Guadagnino's "I Am Love" starts off dynamically, even with its old-fashioned credits and majestic symphonic flair. No coincidence, the film is a modern melodrama, both sweeping and constrained, that blooms slowly. Like the director's muse, Tilda Swinton, who worked on the project with Guadagnino for seven years. But it is so tailored around the actress that hers is ultimately the only fully developed character.

Nevertheless, "I Am Love" is an ambitious film, and Guadagnino deserves praise for the risks he takes here. The film should enjoy a healthy festival life and ar thouse releases will be forthcoming. The film's two-hour running time, however, may be trying for audiences.

The Recchis are a wealthy Milan clan whose lives revolve around elaborate parties and the family textile business, passed down from the patriarch to his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and grandson Edoardo (Flavio Parenti). Tancredi's Russian wife, Emma (Swinton), clearly loves her children and runs her stately villa like clockwork, but has no passion or job of her own.

Emma's sober world is first shaken up when her daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) comes out as a lesbian, a secret to be hidden from the conservative family. Rohrwacher continues to prove her natural talent for playing outsiders, and Elisabetta is no exception.

Then Emma meets Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a gifted but humble chef who wants to open a restaurant with Edoardo. Immediately intrigued, her desire is unleashed when she visits Antonio's family restaurant. Swinton is riveting throughout but particularly in this scene, clearly struggling to control emotions repressed for years. Their love will bring the caged, frigid Emma to life -- and lead to the film's dramatic climax.

The technical elements of "I Am Love" all work to push forward Guadagnino's grand vision. The camera hugs the actors, telling the story through the smallest details and gestures, and makes Milan look like Moscow. The tight editing never bores.

But best of all is the score, the first-ever by acclaimed minimalist musician John Adams ("Nixon of China"), whose orchestral compositions run counter to the scenes. Dramatic moments are accompanied by light, almost frivolous music, the routine of everyday life by deep, somber tones. Guadagnino could have used more of that approach to the overall tone of the film, which is sometimes overly subdued, as well as avoided some of the anti-big business rhetoric in the London-set scenes.

However, the film's greatest weakness lies in the last 10 minutes: The emotional payoff is strangely hurried and anticlimactic despite the tragic circumstances. But the film is always absorbing to watch, even when it doesn't reach the heights for which it shoots.

Venue: Venice Film Festival, Horizons
Production companies: First Sun, Mikado Film
Sales: Mikado Film/ICM
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbono, Maria Paiato, Diane Fleri, Waris Ahluwalia, Gabriele Ferzetti, Marisa Berenson
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Screenwriters: Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo, Walter Fasano, Guadagnino
Producers: Guadagnino, Swinton, Alessandro Usai, Francesco Melzi D'Eril, Marco Morabito, Massimiliano Violante
Director of photography: Yorick Le Saux
Production designer: Francesca Di Mottola
Music: John Adams
Editor: Walter Fasano
No rating, 119 minutes

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