Please welcome to the ACG Blog contributor Greg Glazier. You can find out more about him at the About page.
“I Am Love” may not have been the best movie to see with my mother.
Starring Tilda Swinton (“The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Burn After Reading”) as Emma Recchi, a woman converted by love from brittle, helmet-quaffed housewife to naked-in-the-garden luvuh, this Italian import is all about mom gettin’ nasty.
Praise be to director Luca Guadagnino for saving me from what could’ve been a very Freudian 120 minutes. Our boy Luca never lets “I Am Love” stray toward cougar country, choosing instead to approach Emma’s sexuality as a twisted thing of beauty. There’s confusion here, and pain — conveyed through Swinton’s knock-out performance and the film’s truly astounding cinematography — so we never once see Emma as anything other than human. The film follows Emma negotiating sex and love not with the sitcom humor of older lady/younger dude, but with respect and honesty.
“I Am Love” begins with a dinner party held in honor of Emma’s father-in-law, a blueblood Italian textile magnate and aging patriarch. Emma hardly speaks in this scene, and the camera is more concerned with showing us her family’s mansion and the thousand maids who run it. Note the contrast between the servant quarters and the rooms employed by the family and you’ll begin to understand Emma’s life as a Recchi wife. Mother of three adult children and wealthy as a queen, her kingdom is museum-still. The real life of the household lies underground and out of sight in the kitchens, the linen closets, those narrow servant stairways the family never uses. What we have is a woman without a heartbeat who doesn’t appear to know her own deep unhappiness. Sure she’ll crack a smile when appropriate, sure she’ll give her children (all of whom are beautiful, by the way. The film’s cast alone is worth the price of admission! Seriously, everyone in “I Am Love” is model-gorgeous) a maternal peck on the forehead, but as the Black Eyed Peas ask, where is da luv?
Follow up question: where does this lack of love come from? Well, we learn slowly that Emma was transplanted from Russia to Italy by her husband to play the part of his loving wife. Not much backstory is given about this, but it’s enough to understand what the film is getting at: Emma’s true identity has been ripped away and the scars painted over. She has so successfully adapted to the role of Mrs. Recchi for years that she no longer knows who she once was. Emma is truly alone.
Enter Edoardo Gabbriellini, talented chef and best friend of Emma’s oldest son. We’ll pause now to catch our breaths, since Italian actor Antonio Biscaglia is damn good looking. Seriously, Google image search does not do this man justice — you have to see him move (and speak!) to understand how sexy he is in this role. “I Am Love” now enters the familiar territory of the Exotic Affair with a Foreign Man. This is the stuff of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Eat Pray Love,” and countless other escapist films for the menopausal set, but the chemistry between Swinton and Biscaglia is so believable that you won’t even care if this is a smidge cliché. The exquisite meals Antonio prepares for Emma, his tiny house up in the hills of Sanremo — it’s all engineered to make us swoon, but the sex is what’ll really get you. Guadagnino’s camera flicks between Emma’s naked breasts to a bee crawling on a thistle to Edoardo’s abs to a mushroom covered in dirt to Emma’s hand clutching the earth. The music builds. So does the passion. Give in to the filmic manipulation and enjoy one of the best (and most believable) onscreen orgasms you’ll ever see.
Also, props to Guadagnino for no airbrushing or hazy camera filters. This is a sex scene, moles and all. Again with the honesty. Love it.
From here the film becomes about what happens when Mom has sex with someone other than Dad. The ending of “I Am Love” is one I’d never give away — it’s too emotional, too brutal, too must-see for any spoilers. If you’re like me and love to give in to films about feelings, this one will leave you reeling. If you’re like me and you too saw “I Am Love” with your mom, you might leave the theater blushing at the thought of having to rehash the events of the movie with yo’ mama. Hopefully you’ll get over it and cherish the experience as one that proves that Women of a Certain Age have feelings too. And these feelings are profound and lovely and complicated — just like the feelings that make our own hearts go pitter-patter.