Movie review: I Am Love

Theatrical poster via

I Am Love was made in 2009 and did the rounds of a lot of semi-important film festivals, before being given a general release in UK in April of this year. I went to the cinema a while ago to check it out, entering the theatre gloriously free from preconception and generally positive. Little did I know that the proceeding 120 minutes were not to reward my openness, but rather punish my naïveté.

Centring itself around an Italian family, Luca Guadagnino’s picture is a melodrama following the tribulations of the aristocratic Recchi clan at the turn of the millennium. The film opens on the birthday party of patriarch grandfather Edoardo Snr., who announces that he is retiring from the family textile business, leaving its running to son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and grandson Edo (Flavio Parenti). The family is stunned by this and, in the wake of Edo Snr.’s death, begin to break apart. Daughter Elisabetta goes to art school in London and mother Emma (Tilda Swinton)’s attentions become increasingly drawn to her son’s chef friend, Edoardo Gabbriellini’s Antonio…

Ostensibly, I Am Love handles the classic ‘realities behind riches’ dilemmas: the Recchis are all troubled people who must realise that wealth doesn’t equate to happiness and all use their money as a shield from inner conflicts, etc. In this style of film, then, character development should therefore be prioritised above everything – if we are supposed to care about the family plights then surely we need to know them extremely well, right? Wrong.

Therein lies the biggest and most aggravating aspect of Guadagnino’s film: we simply do not care about the Recchis, even a little bit. The film looks delightful, and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux does some wonderful stuff, from aerial pans through London streets to winding shots of the Italian countryside, but there is little substance behind the style. Tilda Swinton’s Emma, the film’s fulcrum, is an interesting character – a Russian stripped of her heritage – but her motives are never really revealed. Her infidelities with Antonio are absolutely crucial to the film’s plot, as she drifts further and further from her family in the name of desire, but there is no indication as to why she wants to leave. Her marriage to Tancredi is supposedly an unhappy one, but why does she feel the need for adultery?

The key relationships in I Am Love are never really explored to their fullest, with far too much of the film left to implication and not enough given to exposition. We don’t need huge swathes of backstory, but a film about a family dynamic must include at least some of it in order for anything to make sense. Emma has come to hate Tancredi – why? Tancredi and Edo are at an impasse – why? Emma is cheating on her husband – why?

The main problem with the film is that none of these questions are satisfactorily answered, precious minutes of screentime are given to pretentious sixth-form metaphor (a bee fertilising a flower to represent sex? Spare me) and unnecessarily baggy sequences which are in dire need of an edit. Additionally, there are some purely gratuitous sex scenes about an hour in which really offer nothing of use to the plot and seem only to ensure the film’s higher age certificate. The tone of the film wildly swings from sensual romance to family melodrama to rural love-letter, and the incongruity of some sections is hard to ignore. For a film which starts off in a recognisable mode, I Am Love meanders more than a drunk staggering home and for large parts is about as comprehensible.

So is there anything to savour in this 2-hour stylistic pile-up? Fortunately for all concerned, Swinton is an engaging presence on screen and, having learned fluent Italian and Russian for the role, shows some real craft in her performance. In a movie where nearly every bit of plot progression is left to the audience to deduce, Swinton’s skill makes unpacking it a mite easier when she is on screen. The aforementioned cinematography is also great, but Le Saux’s excellent work is often shoved down your throat, sequences seeming endless until the director feels that his sensitivity has been sufficiently transmitted.

I Am Love, then, doesn’t offer a lot. Sacrificing essential character development for an endless stream of stylish shots, Guadagnino’s film needs a lot changing if it was to merit praise. The tone has a life of its own (and not in a good way), the script offers little in the way of exposition and the pretension of the film is crushing at times. A shame, because with a decent script edit and a trim, this could have been an enjoyable family drama instead of a baggy, meandering, frustrating mess.

3/10: Swinton offers a respite from the boredom, but overall this is one for huge Italian movie enthusiasts only. Ironically, I Am Love is a lot like the Recchi family it tries so hard to critique: fabulous to look at, but distant, self-aggrandizing and ultimately unfulfilling.

Luke Grundy is a fervent assimilator of media living amid the bright lights of London, England. If he’s not watching films or listening to music, he’s probably asleep, eating or dead. An aspiring writer, journalist and musician, he is the creator of movie/music blog Odessa & Tucson and lives for epistemology.

One response to “Movie review: I Am Love”

  1. AlexL says:

    Hello. Your review was extremely well written and I appreciated it very much. I understand many of the points you were trying to discuss but the more you dove into your argument, you seemed to be building up an explanation for why the film was the way it was. When I watched the film, I too was captivated by the cinematography and was too at times a little disconnected with the plot but I feel that the movie meant to be so ambiguous. When you mentioned the different characters and their relationships and their lack of relationships and how they really weren’t developed, I felt that it gave room for the audience to put in their own story. Although I didn’t love the movie, I liked it enough to see it was very innovative in a lot of aspects. For instance, Le Saux’s work on some of the scenes, the unconnectedness of the family paralleling at times the run around of the film. I do see your point and agree with most if not pretty much all you’re saying but I feel the film was very interesting, confusing and beautiful but I understand where it could have been developed to a level of great film. Fantastic crit!

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