NZIFF ’10: I Am Love (Io Sono l’Amore)

nziff ’10: I Am Love (Io Sono l’Amore)
Dir. Luca Guadagnino | Italy | 2009 | 120 mins.

Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo are just two films that Luca Guadagnino references in his exquisite, delectable masterpiece I am Love. Tilda Swinton, in a truly stunning performance and speaking very good Italian, stars as the Russian-born wife of the heir to a Milanese textile fortune. When she married into the haute bourgeois Recchi family, she all but abandoned her past, going as far as to change her name to Emma.

Seduced both literally and gastronomically by a charming young chef—an acquaintance of her son’s—she begins an affair that will end in tragedy. A parallel plot-line involves her daughter’s dalliances with infidelity, and the film also stars Waris Ahluwalia—best known as the Indian character in several of Wes Anderson’s films—in a witty, wry turn as a business consultant.

The photography is exceptional. From the gigantic family mansion in Milan to the chef’s hilltop hideaway in Sanremo, every detail—not just in faces and architecture but in clothing and food, too—is pored over and devoured: both Epicureans and the sartorially-inclined are catered for in abundance. Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography here recalls Harris Savides’ work on Jonathan Glazer’s 2004 film Birth, which, like I am Love, is set mostly in a large snowy city and examines covert infidelity and a woman’s uncontrollable, unbridled passion overflowing to disrupt family dynamics.

Like James Gray’s Two Lovers, a film with which I am Love shares a romanticism and classical air, Guadagnino’s camera observes the way characters compose themselves in rooms, around furniture, entrances and hallways, their body language saying almost as much as their dialogue. Equal to the stunning visuals is the film’s soundtrack; this is the first film since Matter of Heart, a 1986 documentary about Carl Jung, to feature the striking, atmospheric compositions of the American minimalist John Adams. Selections and extracts from his works “The Chairman Dances,” “Lollapalooza,” “Fearful Symmetries,” “Century Rolls,” “Shaker Loops,” and his opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” brilliantly complement the film’s imagery.

The aforementioned Hitchcockian echoes are embiggened in the film’s final section by an extract from “Harmonielehre” (German for “harmony”) which—coupled with the camera’s pensive yearning to look up at bell towers, and Swinton’s Madeline-like hairdo in a previous scene—almost seems to invoke the spirit of Bernard Hermann’s score for Vertigo. The only other notable use of music is the inspired employment of the Elliott Smith song “Pretty (Ugly Before),” played through a character’s iPod ear-buds. Although for the most part it takes itself seriously, the film is wonderfully vibrant and lively, and manages at several points to venture into experimental territory—the only point at which it risks running off the rails—while also incorporating enormous, sweeping, almost classical shots and camera movements.

This is a film so perfectly appointed at every turn that you wish, like the nearly orgasmic cuisine ogled and consumed throughout the film, you could just swallow it up.

I am Love will almost certainly be re-released at Rialto and similar cinemas in the near future.