I Am Love (Io sono l'amore)

Delme Stephenson

Although I missed its original release date in the UK in April, I was fortunate enough to catch a limited theatrical re-release of ‘I Am Love’ ('Io sono l’amore') at the Everyman Baker Street. It’s a haunting and yet alluring film that proves Italian cinema is a still a force to be reckoned with. Comparisons with Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ have been favourably made. The film premiered at the Venice film festival last year and was released in the United States at the end of June; it is still however yet to be released in parts of mainland Europe.

In 2007 Quentin Tarantino talked of the ‘tragedy’ of Italian cinema, he was quoted as saying, “New Italian cinema is just depressing. Recent films I’ve seen are all the same. They talk about boys growing up, or couples having a crisis, or vacations of the mentally impaired.” Much was made of this in the Italian media where he was heavily criticised. Film icon Sophia Loren stated that Tarantino knew nothing of American cinema let alone Italian cinema. Italian newspaper L'Unita called Tarantino "mentally impaired”, even Spanish auteur Almodóvar suggested the director suffered from “verbal incontinence.”

I admire Tarantino’s body of work. I disagree with his dismissal of modern Italian cinema, but in fairness his comment can almost convey the narrative of Luca Guadagnino’s tale of the decline of an upper-class Milanese family in his film, ‘Io sono l'amore’ or as it has been internationally re-titled in English , ‘I Am Love’. However this is neither a depressed effort nor a failure as a film. It is a beautiful, well constructed piece of cinema that deserves to be praised and recognised. It’s a film that lives beyond its running time; asking you to revisit. It’s about the power of family, identity, repression and yes…you’ve guessed it…love.

The film is set in Milan and follows the fortunes of the wealthy, aristocratic Reechi family. The film begins in winter and welcomes us to a household where the family is preparing for the arrival of its elderly patriarch Edoardo Sr. Our director Guadagnino skilfully shows us the rigid preparation and customs of the clan. At Edoardo Senior’s birthday celebration the patriarch announces that he is dying and that he will leave his textile empire to both his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and grandson Edo (Flavio Parenti). It is also at this occasion that Edo introduces his native Russian mother Emma (Tilda Swinton) to Antonio (Edoardo Gabbrienllini) – a charming working class chef whom he has become good friends with. Several months pass, summer arrives and Emma finds out that her daughter, Elisabetta, who is studying in London, is in a lesbian relationship. This sets Emma on an unexpected journey of self-realisation and liberation from the constraints of her current unsatisfactory life. However the development of a romantic relationship between Emma and Antonio threatens to dismantle the very heart of the Reechi clan and the very important relationship between her and Edo.

There are two revelations in this film: our lead protagonist Tilda Swinton as Emma and our producer-director-screenwriter, Luca Guadagnino. Swinton has been cast in many mainstream film roles as an authoritarian uptight English villain or ‘Ice Queen’; however in this role we truly see another side to her as an actress. Her talent is amazing, she allows us to warm to her; she smiles delicately and kisses passionately. There is a scene near the end of the film set in the confines of a church where suddenly all the colour drains from her face; it’s an incredible piece of acting and combines so many contrasting emotions. Does it really come as a surprise that she couldn’t speak Italian before this film? Or that she adds Russian to her Italian accent? The answer is of course, no.

Swinton, I suppose has always been most memorable in ‘Orlando’ where her character starts off as a young boy, develops into a man and turns into a woman over a 400 year period. She helped develop ‘Orlando’ with that film’s director Sally Potter. As co-producer on ‘I Am Love’, the film spent eleven years in development with Guadagnino. His direction and the cinematography are simply beautiful. The camera twirls down staircases with ease and catches the golden glint of numerous objects. It’s a sublime effort.

This is a film that pleasantly surprised me. It surprises me more that it has divided so many of those whom have seen it. It is quite bizarre at times, and inhabits a space of its own. At times it comes across subtly and then at others it’s obvious and loud. I do need (and want) to see it again to be honest. There are still moments, shots, scenes, sequences that draw me back to it. I am still undecided by the inclusion of the John Adams score at the close. There’s a lot happening in this film even if it is at a purposefully slow pace. My advice is be prepared to stay with it if you wish to be rewarded.