The Austin Chronicle

I Am Love

Rated R, 120 min. Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Starring Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbono, Diane Fleri, Maria Paiato, Marisa Berenson, Gabriele Ferzetti.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 2, 2010

"When I moved to Milan, I stopped being Russian," explains Emma Recchi, the austere, well-heeled wife, mother, and woman at the center of this swirling and gorgeous film. "There was too much of everything," she continues, "in the shops, in the streets. I learned to be Italian." American ideas of what it means to be "Italian" aside, what Emma learns over the course of I Am Love is how to throw herself – body, soul, and sanity – upon the unexpected breakers of l'amour fou. It is her hope – and ours – that this prematurely dour beauty will thus regain an epicurean measure of the Emma that, presumably, once was and perhaps could still be. It helps tremendously that Emma is played, frighteningly, fetchingly, by the breathtaking Swinton, who long ago cornered the market on that peculiar mix of ethereality and carnal gravitas that no other actor I know of can touch. Emma is married to wealthy Milanese textile heir Tancredi (Delbono) and has two children, Edoardo (Parenti) and Betta (Rohrwacher). A chance encounter with some exceedingly erotic sautéed prawns, cooked to perfection by Edoardo's friend Antonio (Gabbriellini), is seemingly all that it takes to awaken Emma to the possibilities of delicious delirium beyond the walls of her home. Soon she's off to San Remo, in search of blissful sun-drenched idylls and … what? She's uncertain and possibly naive, but really, those prawns? Ecstasy on a fork, with a side of ratatouille and a dollop of hope. Swinton, who also produced, has been prepping for I Am Love for the better part of the past decade; she and director Guadagnino set out to make a seriously sultry work of cinematic art, and they accomplished their goal. I Am Love slews gracefully, then jarringly, among Visconti, Hitchcock, Flaubert (the name Emma is no coincidence), and a fearless sort of melodramaticism that might have seemed silly if it weren't for the impeccable everything on display here, from the lush, sexy camerawork of director of photography Yorick Le Saux (Swimming Pool) to the throbbing, atavistic score by John Adams. It's not silly or, at least, rarely so, and Swinton's nuanced, aching performance is downright revelatory.

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