I love Italy and Tilda Swinton as much as the next person—possibly more—so of course I went to see her new movie, I Am Love, directed by Luca Guadagnino and produced by Swinton herself. It’s a feast for the eyes with sweeping views, unexpected angles, gorgeous color, sensual people and sexual food.
Swinton is Emma, the Russian-born matriarch (at 49 in real life!) of the fabulously wealthy Recchi family, which has made its money in the textile industry. Big changes are taking place within this famiglia Milanese. The ailing nonno, Edoardo Sr., is leaving the business, as expected, to his son Tancredi, Emma’s husband, but in something of a soap-opera turn, he instructs his grandson, Edoardo Jr. (Emma and Tancredi’s son), known to the family as Edo, to share the power.
More changes: Betta, the daughter goes to art school in London and comes home a lesbian. Edo gets married (I think; it might have happened in the interval described as "Some months later." ) Grandpa dies; another non-screen event. And the coolly reserved Emma, begins an unexpected affair that quickly becomes hot and heavy with Edo’s buddy, a sensitive and talented chef named Antonio.
The food did it.
The scene in which she savors a shrimp pulls her in—jump cuts to mouth and tongue, teeth and lips, music and heavy breathing—is the moment when we are led to believe she falls in love with the man in the kitchen. It's predictable but effective. Swinton herself has described the scene “prawn-ography.”
But when Emma and the chef tryst in San Remo, it's corn rather than shrimp on the menu. I’ll spare you the details except to tell you that after the scene with the birds and the bees—I mean it, while those two are going at it on a hillside, the director is showing you insects and flowers; yeah, we get it—things do not go well. It’s totally, how you say, melodrammatico.
But it’s sumptuous visually, from the succulent dinner parties to the modest meals shared between intimates. Swinton is exquisite, even if she does at times seem to be more model than actor. (Still, the wardrobe, by Jil Sander and Prada, has the precise construction to underscore a character whose priviliged life is about to come undone.) And Milano, a gray and ugly city if ever there was one, never looked better, with its gothic cathedral in an effective cameo. As for the impossibly grand Villa Recchi, let's just say it makes Woody Allen's vast Upper West Side apartments look like a series of East Village walk-ups.
Movie still or Prada ad? You be the judge
You don't need a handkerchief; you won't be that moved. But bring the Dramamine, you’ll need it for the cinematography, which can get jumpy. And earplugs for the overpowering score. Then go find a nice northern Italian restaurant for dinner.
Just be careful if you order the shrimp.
L'amore alla milanese
.JFor a totally different take on the movie, click on over to Carol Diehl's Artvent.