“I Am Love”, on which Swinton is also credited as a co-producer, is a very classically styled piece of European cinema. As Georgie noted, it is like an Impressionist painting, with the story shown in brief scenes and vignettes like the Impressionist’s small strokes of color.
Honestly looked at, the film does not have much plot; it is more of an episode, although we do get the story of Emma Recchi’s (Swinton) life. The daughter of a Russian art restorer, she is discovered, married, and brought to Milan by one of his clients, Tancredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono), the scion of one of Milan’s great textile manufacturing houses. She settles into what seems to be a good marriage, bringing up two sons and a daughter, and becoming mistress of her husband’s palatial villa and its Victorian-style cadre of housekeepers, footmen, and maidservants.
The movie opens, strikingly, in a snow-covered Milan. It is near Christmas, but the holiday the family has gathered to celebrate is the birthday of the family patriarch, Emma’s father-in-law. As the family gathers, we get subtle hints of the group dynamics. For example, we learn that Emma’s eldest son, Edwardo (Flavio Parente) was in a race of some sort that day, and came in second. We never even learn what kind of a race or any of the details of what happened, since the family only cares about the fact that Edo “lost.” Rubbing this in is done gently, but relentlessly, and lets you know where the family values lie.
The family equilibrium is upset that day by two things: Edwardo Sr.’s retirement, in which he makes the Lear-like decision to divide responsibility for the company operations between his son Tancredi, and his grandson, Edo; and a visit by the race victor, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), who has come to make a sportsmanlike gesture of friendship to Edo.
Cut forward, then, six months. Edo has become fast friends with Antonio, who is a talented chef, and is working with him on plans to open a restaurant in the hills above San Remo. Edo encourages his mother to dine where Antonio is cooking now, and she is at first enraptured by his food (a moment that reminded me of the epiphany of Anton Ego in “Ratatouille”--), and then by the passionate and handsome young chef. With all her children off to school or in London with the business, there’s nothing to hinder Emma’s falling into an incandescent affair with Antonio.
When things go wrong, as they do in an unexpected fashion, the consequences are the most emotionally dreadful imaginable, and Emma’s inability to deal with it brings on further disaster.
The major attraction of this film is to watch Ms. Swinton act. She can go from coolly competent, to shamelessly passionate, to utterly, speechlessly destroyed. She can seem to age herself twenty years in twenty seconds--. The second attraction is the film itself, which is gorgeously photographed. One might be a bit amused by the sequences of bees and flowers during the love scene, or seemingly weeping statues in the rain when tragedy strikes, but they seem right in the context.
Satisfying, and highly recommended for those who enjoy “art” cinema.
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