Repressed matriarch's unsafe sex

I Am Love (MA). Director: Luca Guadagnino. Starring: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbono. 120 minutes

Tilda Swinton and Flavio Parenti in I Am LoveTwo notable pieces of trivia about Sicilian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino's lavish, tragic period drama Io sono l'amore (I Am Love). First, it features Scottish actor Tilda Swinton speaking Italian with a Russian accent. Second, it is the first film to which renowned American composer John Adams has put his name.

The first point is important because it highlights how incredible the fiercely talented Swinton's performance is. She plays Emma Recchi, Russian born matriarch of an Italian textiles dynasty. Emma is an image of propriety, dutiful wife to her husband Tancredi (Delbono) and adoring mother to their three adult children, particularly her eldest son, Edoardo (Parenti), who seems to share her melancholic Russian soul.

Emma conducts social gatherings especially the comings and goings of the service staff) with joyless precision. Hers is a controlled, repressed existence, and we can sense her alienation even when she is in the midst of a crowd.

Emma becomes inspired by her gay daughter Elisabetta's (Rohrwacher) impassioned break from familial conventions. More importantly, she finds herself suddenly, intensely inflamed by the sensual cooking of rugged young chef, Antonio (Gabbriellini), who happens to be Edoardo's best friend.

I Am Love is the story of Emma's Chatterleyesque escape into Antonio's arms. Their charged, animalistic affair provides respite from her crystalline existence. But as a tawdry, closely held secret, the affair also becomes the catalyst for a sinister positive feedback loop that could ultimately cause the glass to shatter.

This is an astonishing film, whose imposing tragedy is swathed in garish sheaves of Adams' superb score. His compositions burst through unexpectedly to expose characters' inner worlds, sometimes with great humour. Hear how he plays off against cinematographer Yorick Le Saux's use of saturated colour to evoke Emma's erogenous experience of eating a plate of Antonio's prawns. A scene where Emma half stalks, half hides from Antonio on a busy shopping strip becomes a luscious Hitchcockian setpiece thanks to Adams' brilliant yet uneasy symphony.

Risk is clearly an aspect of titillation for the buttoned-down Emma. This is represented symbolically after Emma and Antonio have consummated their attraction and surrendered to an intense and uninhibited outdoor coupling. Close-up vision of the scurry and flutter of stinging insects, perhaps agitated by Adams' darkly elated score, are juxtaposed with microcosms of human carnal ecstasy; fingers and mouths traversing yards of stretch-marked, pocked and freckled skin. (Visually sumptuous, this is a film for the cinema more than the home theatre.)

I Am Love is an unforgettable film, anchored by an unforgettable performance from Swinton. Her Emma is at once powerful and fragile. The crystal of her existence is both fortified and tested by poor choices, though they are choices made in suffocating circumstances. Her affair with Antonio is a desperate lurch toward freedom, but one wonders whether 'love' is justification enough for the tragic outcome.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a regular contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. He was Chair of the Interfaith Jury at the 2009 St George Brisbane International Film Festival.

Topic tags: I Am Love, Luca Guadagnino, John Adams, Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Rohrwacher



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