Usually when you see a preview or commercial for a film that uses a quote as over-the-top as “see it by any means necessary,” your first instinct is to not take it that seriously. I mean, what movie can be so good that you must see it? “Avatar”? “The Dark Knight”? “Citizen Kane”? In the case of Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love” I only wish I’d said it first.
That quote referenced from the picture’s U.S. trailer is by David Fear of Time Out NY, a strong critic I respect, who beat myself and a few other commentators to the punch with his plea to support the Italian language modern masterpiece. Featuring a spectacularly subtle performance by Tilda Swinton, “Love” is a powerful drama set in modern day Italy that is much more than the stylish drama a few critics are labeling it as. “Love” is one of the few occasions when narrative cinema becomes art. It’s a rare occurrence these days, seen spottily for mainstream audiences in the films of Christopher Nolan, Ang Lee, Joe Wright, Zhang Yimou and Spike Jonze, but best exemplified in the work of Terrence Malick.
Guadagnino’s “Love,” which debuted at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, transports a viewer by its tapestry of imagery, music (stunning selections from composer John Adams), performances and a thematic narrative to create a rich experience that can be appreciated for different reasons on multiple viewings. Yes, “Love’s” central characters, a well off Italian clan, live an opulent lifestyle, but this picture is hardly a photo book of fancy houses and European fashion.
At the center of the story is Emma (Swinton), a fortysomething mother of four who is about to see her youngest head off to college in London. Her oldest son is trying to make his way outside of the family’s textile business and inadvertently introduces her to a friend and potential restaurant partner of his, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini). There is a spark during Emma and Antonio’s first meeting, but their unexpected attraction doesn’t knock the audience over the head nor is it completely obvious at first. It’s a gradual pairing as Emma comes out of her maternal shell to experience a change she never expected nor desired. And that, quite frankly, is what “Love” is really about change — the change in life that comes in so many different ways and the ultimate freedom it can provide.
Speaking to Tilda Swinton earlier this week, her passion for the project she worked over seven years on with Guadaginino is evident. Nothing is more satisfying than spending so much time and energy on a project to have it transcend your expectations. She may not win another Oscar for “Love,” but it will always be remembered as one of her finest performances. You can discover Swinton’s opinions on the picture by watching the embedded video above this post. I only wish we’d had a whole afternoon to discuss it, because she was clearly game.
This pundit rarely implores readers to go see a movie, but if you love cinema, if you believe that a film can transcend a narrative context to become art, you must see “I Am Love.”
“I Am Love” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. It expands across the country on June 25. Click here to find out when it comes to your hometown.
Get a taste of “I Am Love” by checking out the clips below.
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