In “I Am Love,” an Italian film from Luca Guadigino, Tilda Swinton plays Emma Recchi, a bored Italian housewife married to a wealthy textile merchant in Milan. She watches as her children leave home and begin their own lives while she remains static, presiding over the same household as she has since she came as young bride from her native Russia. By chance, she is introduced to a friend of her son’s named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a chef with whom she soon starts a steamy affair. Theoretically, this should make for a sexy, thrilling film.
The sad truth, however, is that “I am Love” is a boring, tepid movie — which is absolutely stunning for a film with as many graphic sex scenes as this one.
The problem lies mainly with Swinton’s character. Recchi is passive character throughout “I am Love.” She watches the lives of others unfolding around her as if they were playing parts in a play she is watching. Even in her love affair with the younger Antonio, she rarely takes the lead. Scenes of their real-life lovemaking are dreamlike, whereas Antonio’s fantasies of their trysts are more involved and engaging. Guadigino must have been hoping that this would make Emma’s final actions more heartbreaking. But because of how removed this character was from the world, I found nothing about her interesting. There was nothing about her that made me want to root for her. And while I love Swinton, I can’t help but think there would be a better actress out there to play a warm motherly type than the woman best known as playing an ice queen.
The whole film has a removed feeling. Milan, though shot beautifully, is portrayed as a cold museum. I’ve come to expect from Italian filmmakers a certain “joie de vivre” in their film-making style, but Guadigino is completely lacking in this regard. In fact, while viewing, my mind wandered to an old Eddie Izzard (famous transvestite comedian) routine on British films, that I think applies remarkably well to “I am Love” despite it’s Italian pedigree. Izzard teases that in British films the drama is very subdued, to the point that it barely seems like there’s any conflict at all; and you just can’t eat popcorn to that. “I am Love” suffers from the same problem. There’s no fun, nor is there any conflict that interest the audience; and without that, there is no enjoyment.
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