a review by Nalini Haynes
I am Love is a story revolving around Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), a middle aged woman who ‘is love’. Emma loves her children, reaches out to others but remains isolated and unhappy. The movie opens with an elaborate family dinner, introducing all the family with parts both large and small. Emma’s husband Tancredi is named joint heir and successor to his father at this dinner, joint with one of his sons, Eduoardo (Edo). There are two sons including Edo, and one daughter, Betta. Edo has a friend, Antonio, who is introduced as the person who beat Edo in a race earlier that day. Antonio is also a chef, which common interest with Edo serves to inspire a friendship between the two.
Betta sends Edo a letter discussing her new lesbian relationship but Edo leaves this in his pocket for the dry cleaner to find and give to Emma. Emma is silent upon learning of her daughter’s sexual affiliation with no one to turn to. Emma’s unhappiness and isolation inspires her to attempt to develop more of a friendship with the housekeeper, but she is rebuffed. Alone, Emma continues embodying love for her children at every opportunity. Emma reaches out to others around her in kindness, opening the way for her relationship with Antonio to develop.
The story develops from the beginning where it almost looks like a cross between a ‘lifestyles of the rich’ program and a cooking show, to weave a story of love, loss and finding oneself. There is a focus on the cooking and presentation of food, which is used as a language unto itself. This, along with a cinematographic focus on trivial details while the servants prepare and serve the food, whilst skipping over the normal focus of things like the death of the patriarch and the wedding of the favourite son, creates an atmosphere unlike the usual Hollywood style movie.
Antonio romances Emma with food before the relationship becomes physical. Later the physical passion is presented beautifully, partially in analogy and partially cinematographically. (I’ll take this presentation over TrueBlood’s sex scenes any day!)
Tancredi’s on camera role is small, to the point where Tancredi is almost wallpaper, but in a few key scenes his superb acting conveys his character as antagonist to Emma’s protagonist. Tancredi complacently accepted being named heir to the company then, without a word, conveyed his displeasure at being named co-heir with his son. In one key scene with few words, Tancredi demonstrates ‘foreplay’ as he changed the TV channel away from a program his wife was watching. Needless to say, she rolls over to go to sleep.
Edo is an enigmatic character who I could never quite pin down. He wanted to open a restaurant but went into the family business as expected. Once in the business, he tried his best to live up to his grandfather’s expectations even while Tancredi was working to sell off the business to make more money. Edo brought home a girl who later became his wife, but I had the impression that he may well have been sexually attracted to Antonio. It certainly appeared that there was a triangle there, with the wife working against Edo increasing his involvement with Antonio.
I am Love began slowly. I had no idea what to expect, so I felt that I was struggling to put the images of this dinner party, the food, the servants and so forth, into context. Gradually the story built up to the climatic finish, increasing speed and developing the characters right up to the end. The climax was powerful, and full of meaning for those who look for depth in entertainment.
I am Love is primarily in Italian, with a little French, Russian and English, with English subtitles. I believe if you enjoyed Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Le Divorce you will enjoy this movie.
This review was previously published in Dark Matter issue 1, October 2010, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.