I Am Love (Magnolia Pictures, R)

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While much of I Am Love is shot as an apparently straightforward narrative, Guadagnino delights in throwing in stylized set pieces and blatantly obvious symbols as well.
I Am Love is an over-the-top title for a dramatic film where director Luca Guadagnino seems to be channeling Douglas Sirk, Alfred Hitchcock and Derek Jarman all at once while stocking his cinematic larder with references to everything from A Man for All Seasons to Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.
After a retro title sequence the film opens on grey, snowy Milan before taking us indoors to bask in the warm hues of the Recchi mansion, shot in a stately yet sumptuous style by Yorick Le Saux. His cinematography celebrates every material pleasure enjoyed by this family who are uniformly slim, rich and beautiful and are tended to by an army of uniformed servants. We see the Recchis holding a multi-generational dinner which is basically a Tina Barney (http://gallery339.com/html/artistresults.asp?artist=49&testing=true&offset=6) photograph come to life and everyone seems to fit so perfectly into their environment that you don't notice immediately the odd sense of formality and disconnection in their conversations.
The next section of I Am Love shifts gears abruptly with increased camera movement and cuts as the pretty picture starts to unravel. Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), a Russian who married the heir to the Recchi fortune (Flavio Parenti), is not entirely happy in her life as a wealthy matron. Her children are also looking for a life doing something other than managing the family fortune: Edoardo (Gabriele Ferzetti) wants to open a restaurant while Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) is studying at art school in London and discovering that her sexual preference does not run to men.
If you know anything about the conventions of the film melodrama, you can guess that Emma will try to revitalize her life through an inappropriate sexual relationship. The somewhat improbable object of her affections is Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) who not only works for his living (he's a chef) but has the dark coloring of a Southern Italian which contrasts markedly with Emma's, and the Recchi's, Northern paleness. The affair has the desired effect in terms of restoring Emma's sense of self but also brings her (quite predictably) in conflict with her family. Swinton is magnificent; Gabbriellini is hot, and together they keep the film from becoming an abstract intellectual exercise.
The interest in I Am Love lies not so much in the story, which has been told many times before, but in the way Guadagnino chooses to tell it. Supported by an eclectic score by John Adams (Pulitzer-Prize winning composer of, among other things, the operas Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic), Guadagnino salts his film with deliberate anachronisms, and mixes up his cinematic styles, so you're never sure what is coming next. He cuts abruptly away from one incipient sexual encounter in a manner that would have pleased Will Hays only to later indulge in lengthy celebrations of sensuality which earned the film its R rating. And while much of I Am Love is shot as an apparently straightforward narrative, Guadagnino delights in throwing in stylized set pieces and blatantly obvious symbols as well.
Even the credit sequence contains a puzzler, and I can't wait until a few friends have seen it to help put all the pieces together-that's the kind of film I Am Love is. So if you're looking for a straightforward narrative told in the invisible Hollywood style you'll probably hate it, while if you are open to a rich experience that has as much to do with cinematic history as anyone's real life, you might find it one of your favorite films of the year. | Sarah Boslaugh

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