I Am Love features a jaw-dropping performance by one of the world's best living actresses--the strange and wonderful Tilda Swinton. That should be reason enough to see it. But the film as a whole is a spectacular artistic achievement--overflowing with life, depth, beauty, elegance, and originality. It's a true film for the senses, and a must-see for any lover of the cinema.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino, the film is set in Italy in contemporary times, yet has a decidedly retro feel to it--somewhere between The Godfather and Fellini. The narrative centers upon the Recchi family--a wealthy Milanese family representative of the old haute bourgeoisie--as they are forced to adjust to a changing world. Matriarch Emma (Swinton), who married in to the family, never quite feels at home in her role as Italian aristocrat and society hostess. The film is largely about her self-discovery as she encounters a lower-class chef who awakens her passion and emboldens her to transcend her circumstances.
The film's plot and themes -- breaking free from repression, discovering the beauty of life via unbridled passion and transgressive behavior -- are at first quite familiar, and disappointingly amoral. Woman breaks free of highly structured, corseted life by eschewing obligation and shacking up with a vibrant young artist (in this case, an artist of food). Seen it many times before. But as I Am Love concludes--in a spectacular cacophony of sound, montage, and story resolution--it becomes clear that this is not just another "yeah! Infidelity is so freeing!" sort of film. It's about much more than that.
Most of the "more" this film has to offer is in its generous attention to detail, beauty, and sensual existence -- whether in a gorgeous closeup of a bee pollinating a flower or a macaron from Laduree, or a sprawling shot of cathedral, or the elegantly intense music from composer John Adams. Embodying a style critic Manohla Dargis called "postclassical Hollywood baroque," I Am Love is one of those films that reminds us why we love movies so much. It puts the beauty of the world under a microscope in a way that feels both familiar and foreign, real and imaginary. It universalizes the foreign and makes the mundane transcendent. I Am Love is not without its faults, but it certainly achieves one of those rare levels of cinematic ambition that makes one think of Coppola or Kubrick or Malick.