Tilda Swinton is a chameleon. The Oscar-winning British actress has created such a wide range of characters that her choice of role can never be shocking. I did not take notice of her until I saw Michael Clayton in 2008, for which she won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She followed her win with roles in the studio films Burn After Reading and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but it was her performance in the independent film Julia that was criminally overlooked. I Am Love is an Italian-language film that the actress co-produced. It is almost unheard of for an Anglophone actor to appear in a foreign language film and speak that language. The film is directed by Luca Guadagnino who developed the film with Tilda Swinton over an eleven year period. It is absolutely not a mainstream film. The film relies heavily on lighting and camera angles and features a dynamic score by John Adams. I Am Love belongs to Tilda Swinton, a talented actress who breathes life into Emma Recchi and is able to transmit one woman's yearning and desire through the simplest and most minimal action. Its often slow and deliberate pacing may alienate some viewers, but I Am Love is a beautifully photographed film with a terrific cast and a standout performance from Tilda Swinton.
Emma Recchi (Swinton) is the Russian-born wife of Tancredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono), the son of an Italian textile magnate in Milan. The film begins with Emma overseeing the preparation for a formal dinner party in honour of her father-in-law Edoardo (Gabriele Ferzetti). She manages the staff and the arrangements with such ease, even when told that her son Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) is bringing his new girlfriend Eva (Daine Fleri). She is an outsider and although she speaks fluent Italian she will never be a true member of the family. At the party Edoardo Sr. announces his retirement and names his son Tancredi and his grandson Edoardo as his successors in the family company. Edoardo Jr. prefers to spend his time with his friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a talented young chef. Emma and Antonio's first encounter is innocent but there is an instant attraction. While Tancredi is in London on business Emma decides to travel to see her daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) in Nice and makes a stop in Sanremo, hoping to find Antonio. Emma and Antonio begin an affair that deeply affects Emma, though neither could imagine the consequences of the affair.
Tilda Swinton may be the star of I Am Love but she would be lost without the tremendously talented group of actors that appear alongside her in I Am Love. Emma Recchi is beautiful and stoic but there is so much yearning inside her. There are many powerful scenes in the film which elicit an emotional response through the silence on screen. One of the best scenes of the film involve Emma walking around the Duomo di Milano after she has inadvertently discovered a secret about her daughter Elisabetta. The camera moves effortlessly around her and the beautiful cathedral as we see the emotion and thoughts wash over her. The film ends suddenly without dialogue and John Adams' score drowns us. The couple beside me at the theatre said that the end of the film with the booming music ruined the whole experience for them. I love when a film's score is treated as a character, as it is in I Am Love. It is an art house films and the audience should expect to find elements not present in mainstream films. I Am Love is a film that leaves you wondering and questioning, as a great film should. I hope that Tilda Swinton continues to provoke us with her films because she is a tremendous talent whose work may often be polarizing but it is still better than watching teen vampire movies.
My rating: 4 stars out of 4.
EDIT I am reminded of the hour I once spent in Milan in 2004. I had just done a whirlwind tour of Venice, Florence and Rome and I was on my way back to France. I had taken a ten hour night train from Rome to Milan and I was so tired that I changed my train ticket to Chambéry to an earlier train. I Am Love, with its beautifully shot images of Milan, makes me wish I had decided to spend that day in Milan.