If you’re itching for a summer blockbuster packed with explosions, car chases and superheroes, look elsewhere because I Am Love is far from that. In fact, it’s far from anything that’s graced the theaters in quite a while. Writer-director Luca Guadagnino indulges the viewer with a grandiose family drama packed with rich scenery, stirring performances and comprehensive camerawork – if only the rest wasn’t so boring.
Meet the Recchis, a wealthy family living in Milan. They've got everything they could want--a lavish mansion, loyal wait staff, any material possession their heart desires--yet each struggles with a pain money cannot assuage. The family patriarch, Edoardo Recchi Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti), is nearing the end of his life and decides to pass along the family textile business to his son, Tancredi (Pippo Delbono). Tancredi's oldest son, Edoardo Jr. (Flavio Parenti), is awarded equal control but his younger brother, Gianluca (Mattia Zaccaro), is left out of the deal entirely. Complicating matters further, Tancredi plans to sell the business, which upsets Edo Jr. who values the family tradition.
Meanwhile, the Recchi women are struggling with matters of their own. Tancredi's daughter, Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher), has a boyfriend, but upon moving to the UK for school, realizes her sexual preferences may lay elsewhere. Lastly, there's the children's mother and Tancredi's wife, Emma (Tilda Swinton), who must not only keep a watchful eye on her family's troubles but her own as well, namely her affection for a friend of Edo's, a chef named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini).
There’s far more to I Am Love than a brief synopsis or the movie itself, at times, can handle. At the start, the situation is fairly overwhelming. The opening scene tosses the viewer into a lavish dinner with a regal and pompous family you've never met discussing the fate of their fortune. There’s too much delivered at once, leaving you exhausted and with little sense of where the film is going. But thankfully, that issue is quickly resolved by introducing the viewer to each family member individually.
Guadagnino carefully explores each Recchi’s predicament, but the characters come across as separate entities rather than one family. Yes, every Recchi is living his or her own separate life--Tancredi constantly at work, Emma obsessed with canoodling with Antonio, Betta at school and Edo with his new wife--and their issues are more personal, but they're so far removed from one another they seem to belong to different movies entirely. Other than their blood, there's little connecting them all.
The divide between family members is an initial shortcoming, but as the story progresses their predicaments finally boil over and congeal, making for an tremendously compelling and satisfying third act. Getting to that grand finale will not be easy for some, but I Am Love is packed with stellar performances and fantastic cinematography that make even the slowest moments mesmerizing.
Shots of the Italian countryside have the power to make you feel as though you’re there while close-ups of the exquisite delicacies the Recchi’s indulge in practically melt in your mouth. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s work is flawless, giving even the most minute props an incredible presence. Composer John Adams frequently keeps the musical accompaniment at bay, then suddenly bursting into a rousing and somewhat startling grand opus.
The acting is best when talk is sparse, during the more emotive moments when romance or grief consume the characters. Swinton is fantastically natural and captivating as always, Parenti makes for a warm and likable Edo and Delbono a stoic Tancredi, but Rohrwacher and Maria Paiato, who plays Emma's maid and confidant, establish the most powerful connection in small supporting roles. Rohrwacher masterfully conveys a passion that complements her character’s free spirit, while Paiato immediately wins your heart not only for her dedication to her work, but genuine love for the family as well. Ida is merely sprinkled in small doses throughout the film, but even in the shortest instant, is able to command the screen and, more importantly, your heart.
Sometimes you’ve just got to work to get to the good stuff and for a moviegoer lacking the palate for an operatic melodrama, the effort might not pay off. However, for those willing to tolerate I Am Love’s slow and deliberate buildup, the effects are profound. Yes, this is a particularly well-made film, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Either you appreciate the 1950s art house styling or you don’t and for those of you in the middle, you’ll remain right there, finding the film tiresome yet appreciating its beauty.