I Am Love (Io Sono L'Amore)


Review by Willard Manus


It took seven years of planning before I AM LOVE finally got made--and it felt like seven years were going by while watching the finished product unfold.

The feature, directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Tilda Swinton, takes its time to get to its main plot point, the love affair between a rich married woman, Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) and a handsome young working-class stud, Antonio Biscaglia (Edoardo Gabriellini). The theme is an old one--remember Lady Chatterly's Lover?--but Guadagnino and his team of screenwriters try hard to reinvigorate it, with mixed results.

On the positive side, I AM LOVE has the texture and richness of a novel. Guadagnino dramatizes the life of an upper-class Milanese family from the inside: much of the film takes place within the family's palatial mansion with its elegant rooms, classical artworks, numerous servants, spacious gardens and swimming pool. Guadagnino is also careful to show us where all the wealth derives from: a textile mill on the outskirts of Milan.

When the film opens, Recchi Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti), the patriarch of the family, announces at his 80th birthday dinner that he's handing over control of the mill to his serious-minded son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and--surprise!--to his grandson Edoardo (Flavio Parenti).

Most of the Recchis believe Edoardo is too young and impetuous to take on such a responsibility. They also don't understand why the old man cut Edo's brother Gianluca (Mattio Zaccaro) out of the picture.

Tancredi is married to Emma, a handsome, stylish woman who is treated with condescension by Tancredi and some of the other Recchis because she doesn't come from a "good" Milanese background. The Russian-born Emma feels hemmed in by her highly-ordered life, which is comprised of running the house, being a hostess, spending her free time on shopping and other frivolities. The poor woman is a bird in a gilded cage.

Liberation comes in the form of Antonio, a sports chum of Edo's who is also a professional chef. Handsome, bearded and virile, Antonio cooks lunch for Emma at his small restaurant in Milan. Since no woman can resist a man who cooks for her, Emma falls hard for him and eventually gets it on with him in his remote country house (which he hopes to turn into a restaurant with Edo's financial help).

What makes Antonio even more irrestible is that he digs in the earth for his own vegetables and fruit (Mellors lives!). He is also an ardent and skilled lover. The near-frigid Emma reconnects with her long-buried sexuality and falls madly in love with this nature boy.

It's almost a given in movies that any woman who enjoys extra-marital sex must pay a price. The wages of sin and all that. Poor Emma is no different. Tragedy follows in the aftermath of all her great orgasms--and the Recchi family is shattered.

I AM LOVE unfolds in a careful, well-worked-out way. It is undoubtedly an art film: handsomely mounted and shot, filled with fine acting performances, nicely written scenes. It even has a musical score by John Adams (derived from previous works of his). If only I AM LOVE didn't take itself so seriously, didn't move so slowly and ponderously, weren't so predictable--it might not have bored me the way it did.