Testing my palate
(Io Sono l’amore, “I Am Love”, Luca Guadagnino, Italy, 2009, 120 mins)
Guadagnino’s beautiful I Am Love, which could be described as an Italian melodrama, tenderly and patiently depicts the passion of cookery and escaping routine in a home of withering family fortunes. Tilda Swinton’s Emma Recchi is a devoted mother and wife in an upper class haute bourgeoisie family in Milan, with a luxurious home and décor, but as we see through Emma, it is not only the furniture or the parties which have lost their appeal; it is her family and her appetite for someone else which will have fatal consequences. The narrative is no American melodrama; there are similar complications that could be straight out of Written on the Wind (1956), and it can’t be denied that there are some Sirk-like influences. This is particularly noticeable with the frequent use of mirrors and reflections; quite often the audience are made to observe the characters as they study themselves, which can sometimes cause us to feel distanced from them. The lighting is also as delicate as the cuisine, and when Emma enjoys a prawn dish that her son Edoardo’s (Flavio Parenti) friend and motivated chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) has prepared, the soft amber lighting remains only on her as time becomes consciously slow, and the only sound left is the scraping of cutlery as she gently chews the prawns. She moves the prawns around the plate, almost teasing us as her face appears orgasmic and close ups of her lips and eyes emphasise the pleasure she has discovered in Antonio’s recipes and the man himself.
Characters regularly walk out of the shot, suggesting art film conventions that have been scattered throughout, and Guadagnino’s technique of cutting heads off in shots provides mystery and distancing again as we try to connect with the rest of the household purely through their body language. The value of family is stressed as a result of Edoardo’s success of attaining part of the family business, passed down two generations, and the secret Emma must hide relating to her daughter Elisabetta’s (Alba Rohrwacher) new found sexuality. I Am Love has the ability to intensify lustrous gazes and graceful sex, if it exists, by intercutting pans of green, luscious hilltops and surrounding scenery as well as bees pollinating and the voiceover of Emma talking about her Russian life, to give a very different take on a scandalous affair. It is almost hard not to become immersed in the scenery, which at times could be considered an interference with the narrative. John Adams’ score is dramatic; unnoticeable in many scenes it becomes a statement piece where it counts and helps to illustrate the energy between the two lovers. Fantasies are interrupted by reality, and her son Edoardo, making Emma’s dilemma even more dangerous, keeping both the characters and audience on edge as what is expected next is unpredictable, with food clearly not the only thing on their minds.
Emma soon becomes vulnerable within her alternative lifestyle of San Remo; her twitchy body language just shows how on edge she is, as she touches her neck and other parts of her body to convey her anxiety and how distracted she is from what was her routine world. Diegetic sound, such as raindrops and the train, are all increased for appreciation and suspense, as the audience are encouraged to use all their senses. Car journeys are filmed through point-of-view shots, meaning the audience are disconnected yet again from the character, unable to tell what is going on behind their eyes, physically and emotionally, adding excitement as if her family aren’t the only people who are in the dark.
Compared to her chilling performances in The Chronicles of Narnia films as The White Witch, Tilda Swinton should be respected for her role here; she learned Italian for her character as well as how to speak it with a Russian accent, and she carries the film more than anyone, but this is mainly due to the central focus on nature, food and the beauty of physical connections. It is a representation of what is still available regardless of marriage and children; Emma shows us that love really is what conquers all, and Guadagnino, a director I had never heard of until now, offers us a slow, succulent sample of what aesthetically pleasing films should look like.