Tilda Swinton Learned Italian for This Movie

06/16/2010 4:00 AM |

I Am Love

Directed by Luca Gudagnino

Though a thematically dull tale of a woman’s sexual- and self-awakening, I Am Love is thrilling in its sumptuous execution. It revels in a comprehensively elegant aesthetic: painterly compositions, lush lighting, graceful camera movements, fluid transitions, palatial settings, classical typefaces and brash scoring (by John Adams, no less!). Every luxurious frame is steeped in awesome Old World, and Old Cinema, magnificence.

And yet it’s modern-minded. Tilda Swinton, speaking exceptional Italian, stars as an industrialist’s bourgeois wife. With increasingly independent children—one’s getting married, one’s becoming lesbian—she has little to distract her from the shallowness of her privileged, passionless life. And so she begins an affair with her son’s business partner: a rugged, rustic, and many-years-younger chef.

Strange dreams and sometimes-sinister lighting suggest that some melodramatic Reckless Moment is just around the corner, but an accidental and allegorical murder doesn’t arrive until long after you’ve stopped expecting it. In the meantime, Guadagnino engrosses the viewer not with salacity, soap-operatics or the splendid Swinton, but with majestic visuals: you don’t stay for the affair, but for the way the first rapturous, adulterous kiss is shot out of focus, or for how lunching on a plate of prawns transforms into a lens-led tour of private ecstasy. (What Swinton has called “prawnography”). The hypocritical immorality of the ruling class, women breaking free of the roles prescribed by Society—you can see one of Those Movies any day. But it’s a deep and increasingly rare pleasure to see one so sensorily stunning.

Opens June 18