I Am Love
Now Showing at: Esquire Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Sometimes a film can hook you from the very first frame and keep you totally immersed in the story and characters until the credits have finished and there’s nothing more to watch. The Italian drama I Am Love is such a cinematic experience. It opens with beautiful vistas of Milan on a winter’s morning. A wealthy industrialist family is gathering in a grand estate to celebrate the birthday of the family’s grandfather. And to hear the important news as to whom among them will succeed him in heading the family business. The hostess of this anticipated affair is the son’s wife, who tends to the household matters of preparation as if she’s more an employee than a family member.
As the plot unfolds, the requisite dramatic conflicts, be they familial, industrial, or sexual, keep your attention. While watching I Am Love, it’s easy to recall earlier Italian masterpieces such as Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, or Vittorio DeSica’s The Garden of Finzi Continis, two films that are influential in the construction and tone of this one.
Written, produced and directed by Luca Guadagnino, I Am Love stars the cinematic chameleon Tilda Swinton, as the aforementioned wife, a Russian émigré who married well. To do justice to the role, Swinton learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent…no mean feat given the amount of screen time she has. She also expresses a wide range of emotions with just a look, as she did in The Deep End. And whether it’s as the White Witch in the Narnia films, or her Oscar-winning turn in George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, Tilda Swinton always makes us believe she is the character, not an actor portraying that person.
Most of the rest of the cast is unfamiliar to American audiences, with a couple of exceptions. Marisa Berenson, from Cabaret and Barry Lyndon, has a small role. And the grandfather is played by an almost unrecognizable Gabrielle Ferzetti, some forty plus years after his back-to-back appearances in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, and the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
The film is sumptuously photographed, with much style and excellent locations. The use of high-angle, downward shots is striking, and French cinematographer Yorick Le Saux is not afraid to hold his shots for a couple of extra beats to give us a chance to absorb what we’re seeing.
The original music by American classical composer John Adams, along with the use of works from other composers such as Gustav Mahler, is one of the best film scores of the year. It’s dramatic, emotional, and listenable outside of the film… worthy of concert hall exposure.
I Am Love is a stunningly beautiful, emotionally powerful film experience that epitomizes the category “they don’t make them like that anymore.” I am betting that by the end of the year, it will easily make it to my “Ten Best” list. If you love quality, classy films, it’s a must-see.
The R-Rated I Am Love, in Italian with English subtitles, is currently showing at the Esquire Theatre.