Directed by Italian critically acclaimed director Luca Guadagnino (Call me by Your Name, 2017) and produced by both Guadagnino and Tilda Swinton, spanning nearly eleven years in the making. I am Love is a gorgeous romance drama that manages to renovate the genre focusing on the effects of its main romance rather than the romance itself, eventually offering a well-crafted character study, masterfully portrayed by Tilda Swinton who simply prevails the screen in every one of her scenes despite the very little and mostly stiff dialogue.
Emma Ricchi (Tilda Swinton) is a Russian born now seemingly Milanese lady who appears to be in faux control of her household. She is first introduced on screen whilst preparing a dinner party for the Ricchi family’s patriarch, her false air of authority diminishes as she gets told a maid that her eldest son Eduardo (Flavio Parenti) is bringing a date she never heard of. During these very first minutes of the film, the camerawork along with the gorgeous interior set design manage to successfully relay the magnitude of the Ricchi’s wealth, as the camera glides from one room to the next in a seemingly endlessly spacious house, often times even lingering on family photos showing a perfectly content bourgeoisie family. Later that evening, Emma encounters Antonio; a young chef and eventually a friend of Eduardo’s, yet the insignificance of this encounter marks a stark contrast to how these two characters’ relationship would later thrive.
The film brilliantly manages to detect the development of the affair between Antonio and Emma with the utmost delicacy. There are no wild declarations of love, nor are there any passion fueled escapades. The affair is not the main concern of the film, but rather how Emma’s feelings of isolation within her own family seem to slowly fade away till they appear as nothing more than mindless echoing chatter at the back of her head on her way to pursue a real connection. Feelings of guilt and the morality of her actions are both extremely undermined, mainly because it appears as if there was none within her character to begin with, if anything, Emma’s affair with Antonio merely manages to breathe life into the porcelain trophy wife that she was within the Ricchis.
In a sense, the sort of connection that Emma reaches with Antonio is more of a connection with her past self before her marriage. The first time Emma and Antonio interact properly is while he is preparing a Russian Salad. On her solo journey to Nice to view her daughter’s exhibition, she spots him right below a Kremlin-like church, and it is only in the scenes where Emma and Antonio are alone on screen when she actually shares her past memories and simply reveals herself to the audience. Yet the romance remains subdued on screen, In fact a scene where Emma savors a prawn dish prepared by Antonio at his restaurant early on has much more sensual undertones than the two of them actually making love later on. A kiss that’s not even shot in focus sets an entire spectrum of emotions on Emma’s face in the following shot, where she sits alone in the bathroom conveying all her excitement and embarrassment without uttering a single word.
Perhaps the beauty of I am Love is that it is in fact Love introducing itself on screen as much as in the title. It does not instantly cause happiness, and it definitely does not avert inevitable tragedy. However, it allows the characters influenced by it to once again rediscover themselves, and eventually rebel against their own reality for no one’s sake but their own.