Every once in a while a film materializes that forces one to redefine what cinema is capable of accomplishing -- thematically, emotionally, visually. I Am Love (Io Sono l’Amore), a maddeningly ambitious effort by 39-year-old Italian director Luca Guadagnino, epitomizes this idea. Guadagnino doesn’t simply tell a fascinating story; he has developed and enlists his own cinematic language. There are no arbitrary moves here; the writer-director has chosen every single shot to serve its own quiet purpose -- purposes alternately literal, functional, metaphoric, and purely aesthetic. The result is an unqualified masterpiece of the kind not seen in Italian cinema since the days of Visconti, De Sica, and early Bertolucci. And like the work of Visconti, I Am Love marks the rare film that succeeds wonderfully on both a social level (in the extent to which it dramatizes class transitions in Italy) and a personal one.
The story explores the inner dynamics of the Recchis, a wealthy Milanese clan employed in the textile industry. Not long after the patriarch, Edoardo Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti), unexpectedly hands the reins of the operation to his grandson Edoardo “Edo” Jr. (Flavio Parenti) and then passes away, additional earth-shaking changes rattle the family. Edo’s mother, Emma (Tilda Swinton) -- a Russian emigre married to Edoardo Sr.’s son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) -- meets and secretly falls helplessly into the throes of erotic passion with Edo’s friend, chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini). Meanwhile, Emma learns that her daughter, Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher), has discovered her own innate sexual identity and is enveloped by feelings for another young woman. On top of all this, Edo and Antonio begin to develop plans for their own outdoor restaurant, which distances Edo from the textile business and suggests that the young man has a very different future in store than the Recchi men of earlier generations.
Guadagnino reveals his mastery of the medium early and often by establishing kinesthetic movement as the dominant trope here. This is a film about the unstoppable transition from one era to the next, and about the often painful rebirth that this necessitates -- a Yeatsian philosophy re-imagined by Guadagnino on a highly immediate, personal level. As a result, the director favors a wealth of tracking shots that beautifully underscore not just the ineffable changes befalling the familial dynasty, but the emotional journeys made by Emma and Elisabetta. Initially, it feels as though every shot tells its own autonomous story, conveying a wealth of information to the audience on a subliminal level -- to such a degree that one must go back and re-watch sequences numerous times (or better yet, freeze the film frame by frame) to gain the fullest insights into the material. The impression that we have is one of fragmented, deliberately piecemeal storytelling that resembles a centuries-old Italian mosaic -- and that magisterially coalesces on an emotional level in the final sequence into a single point of light, coincident with the final stage of Emma’s personal arc.
Throughout the movie, the writer-director remains fully aware of the power of symbolism, and as a result, utilizes ingenious and delicate metaphors to convey the characters’ inner states -- as when he repeatedly cuts back and forth between shots of Emma, emotionally estranged from her husband on the ground floor of a centuries-old cathedral and longing to escape from the family, and a bird trapped in the same structure, violently flapping its wings and struggling to escape into open air. This instance of visual metaphor only represents one example; the film sports dozens of similar instances, each one seemingly more beautiful than the next.
The performances are remarkable across the board -- but perhaps none more so than Swinton’s. The British actress delivers her dialogue in fluent Italian and does so with Russian nuances and verbal inflections. On an emotional level, Swinton not only immerses herself into the character of Emma so deeply that the actress herself disappears, she continually makes the depth and breadth of Emma’s restricted inner life (and concomitant need for liberation) palpable for the viewer. The result is emotionally overwhelming; when the final scene arrives, we feel at once exhilarated for Emma and physically shaken by the catharsis played out onscreen.
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- Released: 2009
- Rating: R
- Review: Every once in a while a film materializes that forces one to redefine what cinema is capable of accomplishing -- thematically, emotionally, visually. I Am Love (Io Sono l’Amore), a maddeningly ambitious effort by 39-year-old Italian director Luca Guadagnin… (more)