I Am Love is an accurate declaration from a film that took eight years to get made, finding funding and support by the passionate advocacy of its two auteurs, Italian director Luca Guadagnino and star Tilda Swinton. These collaborators developed this story of an haute-bourgeois Milanese family with the intention of creating an old-fashioned melodrama, flagrantly against-the-grain of most contemporary cinema, yet also striving to be a new kind of style-based cinema. Guadagnino uses every tool at his disposal to overwhelm the audience with sensations and fictional histories. It is operatic and democratic filmmaking. I had a chance to talk with Guadagnino earlier this year.
The L: To me, it's a very feminine film. Well, we can get into that... But it also seems very old-fashioned, almost strictly old-fashioned, definitively old-fashioned. I know you even used some classic cinema tools in the film. Can you tell me about that?
Luca Guadagnino: I think that the great era of cinema lies very much in the late 40s to the late 60s, for me. And I think those movies were so strong, so powerful, entertaining, so radical, and so subversive in the form and the thematics, and—let's use a bad word—the ideology, that, for me, it's always important to go back to that legacy in order to understand the movie to be done. So I don't know if I Am Love is old-fashioned... probably. I'd like to think that the movie is a bridge between the past and the future, surpassing the present, in a way. The present being a place where the language of cinema is neglected in favor of a televisual storytelling that completely denies space as an important factor.
I used a three-wheeled dolly, a sort of early-stage steadicam. It's much more strong, much more interesting than a steadicam.
The L:Instead of handheld?
LG: Handheld is a noble rhetoric figure in filmmaking, but I believe that when you use handheld to try to mock reality... it's simply awful.
The L: Something that you said, the bridging of the past and the future, and concentrating on space, reminds me of one scene in particular in your film. The film starts as old-fashioned melodrama, and then in that scene transitions to something else, another kind of melodrama, maybe. It's the scene where she's driving to Sanremo, with her Vertigo hairdo, and it's very much from her point-of-view. And then suddenly, in this very short scene, the shape of her hair is echoed in the architecture and then the nature surrounding her. And then the film takes on this soft-focus style, with nature shots. What were your references for this part of the film?
LG: Many references. Mostly painterly references, photographic references. We looked a lot at the work of Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff, great, great German photographers. Russian avant-gardists like Malevich or Pougny. We had a book of references like this [He stretches wide with his hands].
The L: And not just filmic references?
LG: If you see a picture or a painting you have to think a lot. When you see a movie, you tend to mock. I don't wanna mock, I don't want to copycat. I don't want to reproduce a sequence, I want to understand the spirit of the reaction. I want to be, in a Friedkin movie, possessed by Hitchcock. I don't want to simply copy Hitchcock.
The L: What do you mean, exactly, "possessed by Hitchcock"?
LG: As if the demon of Hitchcock came back from the underworld and faced the comtemporarality of where I'm living and tried to do something now.
The L: What would Hitchcock do.
LG: What would Hitchcock do, instead of copycat Hitchcock. And I don't know if I get that, but that's what I try to do. And when you see a painting, the mystery is so strong in a single image, you can really go into that, to try to understand...