Love for ‘I am Love’

Tilda Swinton contemplates food and the future in ‘I am love.’ (Image courtesy Magnolia Pictures.)

If there is one thing you can say for sure after seeing “I am love,” it’s Tilda Swinton makes a very fine Russo-Italian quasi-aristocrat. The movie opens in Minnesota this weekend.

After that the way you respond to director Luca Guadagnino’s tale of passion and tears amongst members of the Ricchi family depends where you stand on Italian art film. It’s a stylish soap opera set in Milan, and other picturesque spots, which follows the internal and external struggles of a family of old school textile tycoons trying to find a way forward in the modern world

They live in a house which is so luxurious it even has a custom designed wooden platter matching the dining table to map out the seating plan. The family is wrapped in a blanket of calm privilege, even as all around them servants scurry too and fro through the maze of doors and corridors to see to their every need.

In the midst of this is Emma (Swinton) a stunning beauty who has apparently bent herself simply to serving her husband and now grown children. It is only as they go out into the world and ask questions about what they see, and begin to fall in love, that she begins to chafe in her own gilded cage.

A startling seafood dish cooked by one of her sons business partners changes her life. As she eats she seems to awaken to the possibilities of life outside the family. (The scene has been described by some as ‘prawnography.’) Things do not go as she intended.

The film is absolutely gorgeous, paying homage to mid-20th century Italian film through its sweeping camera work, and juxtaposition of designer dresses in primary colors set against the washed out hues of the natural world. There’s a lot of time spent playing with very selective focus too. And on top of that there is the John Adams score sending hearts into overdrive too.

Some people are going to love it. Yet it was clear that some people around me in the theater when I saw the film were a little bemused by the experience. Yes there are lessons in the script about the challenges of family, the responsibilities of wealth, and the boundaries of love.

But this is more a film of sensual experience than philosophical depth. As Freud once said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes you just have to watch Tilda Swinton move through a story and simply enjoy it.

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