Actresses come and go, but Tilda Swinton will always remain one of the best. No matter the role, she always brings her best effort for the film. She’s a delight to watch on screen, and when she is in an excellent movie that showcases how she can articulate emotion with ease, one discovers more to appreciate in the work that she does. I Am Love is just that: a film that showcases her talents as a remarkable actress. Not only is it an excellent movie for her, it’s a feast for the eyes. The style, beauty, and elegance of Milan is captured wonderfully. It’s a remarkable film about family, love, tradition, and what happens when all of it is interrupted.
The film follows the Recchi family through a transitional period. The business they operate is led by Edoardo Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti). During the opening family party scene, he reveals that he is passing it down to his son, Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), and grandson, Edoardo Jr. (Flavio Parenti). As for Trancedi’s wife, Emma (Tilda Swinton), her story focuses on her love for another man and her attempts to identify who she is. I Am Love is very much a movie about family; what happens when there is a disturbance in the family that quarrels with their tradition? The Recchi family is wealthy, classy, and surrounded by the finest arts the world has to offer. It’s clear early on that the family does not know how to handle something when things go wrong. They are used to a life catered toward them, and only prepared to take action when it comes to business. When it comes to disappointing family members, such as losing an important race or deciding to pursue a new form of art, it’s almost too uncomfortable to watch. They cannot wrap their minds around the idea that family is not perfect, even if they imagine their life is.
Another clash in their life is when Edoardo Jr. brings his girlfriend to the party. She is from a lower class, and this leads to awkward moments as the rest of the family observe her like she’s some sort of animal at the zoo. She is not as well-off as the Recchi family; she is still human, though the family cannot understand why their beloved relative chose to be with someone not of their class. It shows you that the tradition of being with your own people and class should absolutely be challenged, no matter what others may think.
Of course, the best part about the film is Swinton’s performance. Her character is interesting, and her performance is stunning. First of all, Swinton learned Italian in a Russian accent for the film. I can’t even imagine the time and effort it took to accomplish this. That is called dedication to your craft. Second, she expresses her characters through her actions more than her words. For example, when she becomes attracted to her son’s friend, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), she speaks to no one about it, but you can tell from her facial expressions, movements, and actions what she is feeling. Her pursuit of him is passionate and sexual. It doesn’t feel out of place because she herself is searching for love. One gets the impression from the opening scene that she never feels comfortable or loved by her husband. Instead of acting like a hostess, she keeps her eyes on the proceedings like a hawk to make sure that everyone is happy besides herself. She’s more of a caretaker than a wife. You can’t blame her for exploring her sexual tendencies toward Antonio. When her feelings finally burst, it’s cathartic. It’s not just sex scenes, but love scenes. We want her to find love, and when she does, it’s beautiful to see. Out of all the performances I’ve seen from Swinton, this is by far the best one. It’s remarkable how she can execute a scene with no words and still clearly show what is happening in her world. Absolutely amazing.
In the end, I Am Love challenges traditions upheld by families. When these old and new traditions collide, it may bring out emotions, ideas, and passions never seen before. The Recchi family isn’t as perfect as they imagine, and watching it unfold before us is beautifully captured, performed with emotion, and it leaves you stunned. It’s an amazing, gorgeous film.
I Am Love
dir. Luca Guadagnino
Screens Sunday, 9/17, 7:00pm @ Brattle Theatre
Double feature w/ A Bigger Splash
Part of the ongoing series: Tilda Swinton: World’s Greatest Actress