Unless you watch a lot of Italian television, you are unlikely to know anyone in this film except for Tilda Swinton. But I have often found that to be a wonderful situation since without stars, you cannot decide as a film goes along who is “important” and so you pay attention to everyone in case they become a key to the story. Clearly Tilda’s character Emma is the center, but all the members of her family and their circle have important parts to play in this involving melodrama.
I am Love, though set in the 21st century, seems like a throwback to another era — a neo-neorealism of the Italian variety. Emma (Swinton) plays the Russian-born wife of a very rich man who collected her as he does his art. She is by the time we meet her thoroughly Italian; he even gave her the name she uses. But despite living the upper class life, dressed in the most fabulous designer clothes, surrounded by her beautiful family in her opulent house in Milan, Emma is the proverbial bird in the gilded cage.
The film opens with her overseeing the set-up of a birthday party for the patriarch of the Recchi family and feels very much like Upstairs, Downstairs with the servants scurrying about preparing for the event. It is at this party that Emma’s life changes when she meets her son’s friend, Antonio, a good-natured racing rival and a working-class chef who brings a cake by the villa.
Before you know it, Emma is eating at Antonio’s restaurant and his food nearly brings her to orgasm. Soon she finds herself out of her comfort zone in a torrid affair with him. The food in the film plays its role bringing them together and ultimately leading to the tragedy that forces her to break free of her cage.
I am Love is slow in getting to the meat of the story, but once it does, it is a satisfying repast. It is also beautifully shot, and Tilda Swinton is marvelous. And it is her film (she even produced it.) This is not a film for everyone though I would call it a chick flick, or polpettone Romantico. Whether you see it in a theater or wait for the rental, you must plan to accompany it with a great Italian meal with lots of good red wine.