FILMOFTHEWEEK

I Am Love (15)

4.00

An Italian affair to remember

Avoluptuous unease defines the mood of Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love, the story of a super-rich Milanese family thrown into turmoil. From its opening shots – a city panorama, beautiful beneath December snow – the film seems at once serene and ominous, heightened by a brittle John Adams score that always seems to be scurrying ahead of the action. The camera conducts us inside an opulent mansion house, where a birthday dinner for 20 or so is being prepared in honour of Eduardo, ageing patriarch of the Recchi family. Amid the bustle of liveried waiters and kitchen staff, his daughter-in-law and head of the household, Emma (Tilda Swinton), is making sure that everything is just so: even the dining-room table appears to quiver beneath her command.

Guadagnino's rapt, almost fetishistic attention to surface luxury at first feels slightly odd, as if he's composing an ad for some high-end gourmet magazine. Yes, we get the picture, thanks – we're just the people pressing our noses against the window. Only as the story unfolds does its overture of formal perfection make a point: there's only so much even this money-honeyed lot can shape to their will. The first sign of the glaze beginning to crack comes when Emma's artist daughter, Elisabetta, presents her grandfather with what he assumes to be one of her paintings. He unwraps it to find, lo! an arty photograph instead – and looks distinctly underwhelmed by it, too. This little wrinkle of awkwardness foreshadows a large one: when the old man makes his announcement as to who will inherit the family textile business, he somewhat Learishly nominates his son Tancredi, as expected, and his grandson, Edo (Flavio Parenti), as joint owners.

By the end of the evening another time-bomb has been set. Edo has been beaten in a race earlier in the day, and the victor, a handsome young chef named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), has modestly called at the house to deliver a cake he has made as a consolation present. Emma, on her way to bed, is introduced to the stranger, an encounter that looks innocent enough until she collides with him again some months later, by which time Edo and Antonio are preparing to set up a restaurant together. The film, elliptical in its movement, indicates what lies ahead by shadowing Emma's story with that of Elisabetta's, who has recently come out as a lesbian and dumped her boyfriend. As if taking permission from her daughter's boldness (and copying her new cropped haircut to boot) Emma finds herself chafing at the constrained life she has made for herself. It is only halfway through the film, for instance, that we learn Emma is actually Russian by birth, and changed her name when she married Tancredi: "When I moved to Milan, I stopped being Russian," she says. This revelation spills out in the aftermath of a passionate rendez-vous with the chef at his rural hideout in Sanremo.

The director Guadagnino pieces this together in a dreamy, impressionistic way reminiscent of Visconti, particularly in his mixing of long shots and extreme close-ups. Yorick Le Saux's prowling camerawork in the scenes where Emma spies on Antonio evokes the half-sickened, half-yearning mood of Dirk Bogarde's Von Aschenbach stalking Tadzio through the streets in Death in Venice. The difference is that Von Aschenbach is already dying; for Emma, surprised by passion, a new lease of life is being offered. The affair unfortunately elicits a soft-headed, overheated extravagance from Guadagnino, evidenced in his close-ups of the couple's bodies entwined with flowers. It's like an idiot adman's vision of D H Lawrence, and a misjudgement on the director's part.

Yet there are compelling reasons to keep faith with the film, not the least of them Tilda Swinton's performance. She does banked-down hysteria better than almost anyone, whether as the blackmailed mother of The Deep End (2001), the hopeless kidnapper of Julia (2007), or the murderous schemer of Michael Clayton (2007), for which she won a deserved Oscar. She is not an immediately sympathetic character here, partly because we cannot see what could be wrong with her gilded life, apart from a stiff-necked patrician husband whom we barely get to know. But Swinton understands about making a person live and breathe on screen, rather in the way Pauline Kael once described Jack Nicholson: where other actors convey thought or emotion with a gesture, "Nicholson does it with his whole body, as if he were electrically prodded." That is Swinton's gift, too, and it is shrewd casting that makes her a convincing mother both to the fair-haired Elisabetta and the dark, rangy Edo. Swinton's is one of four memorable female faces here: Alba Rohrwacher as Elisabetta and Diane Fleri as Eva, Edo's fiancee, were familiar from Daniele Lucchetti's 2006 My Brother is an Only Child, while the tiger-eyed Marisa Berenson (another echo of Death in Venice) is superb as the faintly terrifying Recchi matriarch. I loved the way she just plucks an exquisite small painting (Morandi?) off her wall to give as a wedding present to her grandson.

Seen in the wrong mood, I Am Love may appear nothing more than a trivial and melodramatic squib about rich urbanites messing up. But the rich have their private agonies, just like the rest of us, and it's sometimes more relaxing to watch people combust in lovely surroundings, dressed in Jil Sander and Fendi. It might make you want to go to Milan, even if you can't run to a secluded baronial mansion with hushed lighting, immaculate furniture and museum-standard artworks. Think of it as the cinematic equivalent of window-shopping.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game