If you were somewhat skeptical of former Gucci fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford's lush stylisations and emotional resonances in A Single Man, then you'll hardly be convinced by the latest film from Luca Guadagnino, an Italian film director who has worked previously on promotional advertisements for Fendi. In contrast to the stark minimalism of slow-cinema that is currently fashionable in art house cinema, the extraordinarily beautiful I Am Love, as the titles suggests, simply wallows in an excess of sensory and emotional states.
There's little about the subject that seems attractive, dealing as it does with the lives of an important rich aristocratic Recchi family from Milan, the film dwelling initially on the opulence of their lives, the exquisite furnishings of their family mansion, the elegance of their expensive clothing and the sumptuous extravagance of the haut-cuisine food they as they celebrate the birthday of the family patriarch, Edoardo. At the dinner-party however, the grandfather hands over the running of the successful international family business to his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and his grandson Edoardo Jr. (Flavio Parenti), and although this rankles somewhat, there is clearly a family unity that holds them together and is wary of admitting outsiders.
Cracks are beginning to show however and it's not just in the realities of the family business trying to keeping up-to-date with the workings of the modern business world, but it's shown also in a number of remarkably subtle ways, all of them stemming from the opening dinner-party. Edo has been unaccountably beaten in a prestigious boating race by Antonio, the talented chef who has prepared the evening's meal, and there is a hesitancy about accepting his new girlfriend into the family; the daughter Elizabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) has broken tradition in the present she gives to her grandfather, suggesting that she is going to go her own direction in her studies and in her love life, going moreover against an alliance that she would be good for the family; but the biggest change that is to have profound consequences for the Recchi family occurs with their mother Emma (Tilda Swinton).
The suggestions made, there is however nothing subtle about how director goes about recounting the fall of the Recchi household, the subsequent delirious and tragic events depicted with all the emotional heft and complex layering of Italian grand opera (the florid minimalism of a John Adams score however giving it a much more modern flavour), with cinematic resonances that point to the Italian masters of Visconti and Antonioni. Guadagnino however has a few tricks and innovations of his own, finding a manner to cinematically depict intense sensory impressions and experiences that is unfashionably and almost embarrassingly uninhibited. I Am Love is an extraordinary film, an extraordinarily beautiful one, and one moreover that succeeds utterly in its creation of an interior emotional world as much as the external material world that it depicts. It's the clash between these two worlds then that is to prove the fatal to the Recchi family, and the viewer has no option but to be similarly swept along.