I Am Love: A Review
By Eva Medoff, June 28th, 2010
We’ll admit it: drawn in by the visually lush scenery and hypnotizing Mad Men-esque clothes in I Am Love’s trailer, we assumed the film took place sometime in the mid-century. Something like A Single Man with Tilda Swinton, in Italian. But when Swinton’s character carefully handled a plastic CD case, we we’re pulled out of a period lull into the modern day. Such a realization, one third of the way into a film, can be disorienting; but like the sexual and philosophical liberation that Swinton’s character undergoes, the change seemed to pull the movie into a whole new realm. I Am Love is part family saga (The Godfather, without the crime), part foodie film (Julie and Julia, with eroticism) and part feminist manifesto (insert any movie involving a housewife and an affair). But because this film has Swinton, who blossoms from a shyly prim rose into the stark, avant garde crane we usually see on the red carpet, it manages to rise above any cliched plot points.
Swinton plays Emma Recchi, whose life consists of dinner parties, seating arrangements, maids to direct and frighteningly put together clothing to wear (the wardrobe is designed by Jil Sander, which is just as exciting as you’d imagine). She’s mother to three adult children, whose tendency to adhere to or reject societal standards occasionally garners the film’s focus. Overall, though, we’re stuck with the overwhelming beauty and monotony of Emma’s life in Milan.
She didn’t always live in Milan, however, and her name wasn’t always Emma. When her husband met her on a business trip to Russia, he scooped her up, brought her back to Italy and promptly changed her name. She never returned to her homeland. When her lover, a chef and friend of her son’s, asks her real name, she replies, “I no longer know it.” Food, of course, was part of her attraction to the affair. But as we see Emma slowly shed layers of quiet conformity, we see it’s possible that there may be something more to it than a simple fantasy.
A dramatic plot twist toward the end of the film could have sailed this ship into a disastrously depressing and expected harbor. Instead, the event does exactly the opposite of what you’d expect. With a lesser actress and a lesser cinematographer, I Am Love could have fallen prey to the pitfalls of its genre. Thank Swinton it did not.