Tilda Swinton, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbono, and Flavio Parenti in Io sono l'amore (2009)


(director/writer: Luca Guadagnino; screenwriters: Barbara Alberti/Ivan Cotroneo/Walter Fasano/based on a story by Mr. Guadagnino; cinematographer: Yorick le Saux; editor: Walter Fasano; music: John Adams; cast: Tilda Swinton (Emma Recchi), Flavio Parenti (Edoardo Recchi Jr.), Edoardo Gabbriellini (Antonio Biscaglia), Alba Rohrwacher (Elisabetta Recchi), Pippo Delbono (Tancredi Recchi), Maria Paiato (Ida Marangon), Diane Fleri (Eva Ugolini), Waris Ahluwalia (Mr. Kubelkian), Gabriele Ferzetti (Edoardo Recchi Sr.), Marisa Berenson (Allegra Recchi), Mattia Zaccaro (Gianluca Recchi); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Luca Guadagnino/Tilda Swinton/Alessandro Usai/Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Marco Morabito/Missimiliano Violante; Magnolia Pictures; 2009-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

Though intelligently constructed, the film never could excite me or get me to care that much about any of the characters.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ponderous with an overwrought display of passion, but I Am Love is a well-crafted high-concept family drama about the cruelty and joy of change. In this melodrama, an arrogant traditional Italian family gets humbled in the third act. Sicilian-born filmmaker Luca Guadagnino(“The Protagonists”/”Melissa P”) sets his drama in the early part of this century in an ornate marble Milan villa resided in by the wealthy Recchi family, as sort of a gilded cage prison for the outsider played by Tilda Swinton. The film is basically a showcase for Scottish actress Swinton to show off her acting chops and also show that she’s capable of speaking a fluent Italian throughout in this Italian language film with an Italian cast.

It’s written by Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo, Walter Fasano and Guadagnino, based on a story by the director. It was fun to watch the rich live the good life in such grand style, as the film’s early scenes are all about that as the camera sweeps across the capacious art decorated villa and follows the family enjoying their elaborate meal while pampered by their many servants.

The aged family’s proud patriarch, Edoardo Recchi Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti), announces at a family dinner party celebrating his birthday that he’s retiring from the family run textile factory he founded, the source of their wealth, and surprises everyone by splitting power between his unimaginative son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and his bold oldest grandson Edo (Flavio Parenti). Soon afterwards, the patriarch passes away. We then get caught up with the family’s busy life, as the labored slow-paced film hits us with endless details of family life. We watch for long periods of time the founder’s dutiful widow (Marisa Berenson) sharing the hostess duties with her son’s efficient but socially awkward wife Emma (Tilda Swinton), as the duty of the women are to handle the social events and raise the children.

At the dinner party we learn that the handsome Edo is in love with the attractive and shy Eva Ugolini (Diane Fleri), a perfect trophy wife like his mom, who works as a book clerk and whose father is a wealthy landlord. Later we learn that Edo also is impressed with a talented gourmet chef named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), who he plans in Sanremo to open a country restaurant with as partners.

Edo’s mother Emma is a Russian émigré, who met her husband when he traveled to Russia to invest in art and she was working for her father as an art restorer. She left the Motherland forever and completely adopted the Italian culture. But, with her children grown and no longer dependent on her, she has become bored with her empty life and her loveless marriage to her conventional husband. Emma’s always been a caring mother to her two grown-up sons Edo and Gianluca (Mattia Zaccaro), with the latter, the younger son, who is resentful that Edo gets all the attention, and to a photograper/artist daughter (Alba Rohrwacher) who, with mom’s approval, has come out as a lesbian and is living with her lover in London and then Nice.

When unexpectedly Emma falls deeply in love with the much younger Antonio, after running into him in Sanremo, and embarks on a secretive passionate affair, things change drastically for her family when Edo discovers this affair. At the same time the family is faced with a business upset and are forced to sell their factory during a global downturn to international investors–a factory which made them all rich after doing business with the fascist regime in power.

Warning: possible spoiler in the next paragraph.

The film is brought to an operatic crescendo by the emotional impact of the affair becoming known (with the lesson being: either follow the rules of society or be prepared to suffer the consequences), and gets visualized much like a Visconti art film but one that blends European culture with American gloss. Though intelligently constructed, the film never could excite me or get me to care that much about any of the characters–all seemed too distant and too comfortable for me to worry about their minor problems or temporary pain. But even if I never felt any heat from the pic, nevertheless I never found fault with the performances or could fault its lush visuals or its frenetic John Adams score or its choice to let the pictures tell the story instead of the dialogue or that it was another modern-day flick that chose to equate gastronomic pleasures with sexual orgasms or that it tried to override its weak plotline with its Douglas Sirk-like melodramatics. But that doesn’t mean I was enthralled about the film, it just means that I thought it was an accomplished work that somehow couldn’t move me. Maybe because it was too arty and the setting seemed too artificial, and that the story was too contrived (like why tell hubby you love another man at the funeral of your son, when you almost know for sure what a heavy reaction will follow at such an emotional time). Also, I never thought the characters were developed more than as symbols and plot devices (especially the passionate chef, in love with his work, who turns up as the heavy-handed reminder to the frustrated wife that she’s just another cog in the family factory who can’t escape her fate except by running away from her expected obligations).