I Am Love or Mama Sleeps with the Chef




Operatic in scope, Luca Guadagnino's mesmerizing I Am Love chronicles the carryings-on of an aristocratic Italian family from one grand meal to another. But with each bite taken from each exquisitely prepared dish, the final course of tragedy gets more and more ready to be served up. In the opening scenes, in an overwhelming Milan manor, the matriarch, Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), along with her brigade of servants, sweeps from room to room, making sure every detail is perfect. Even in the kitchen, a misplaced drop of sauce on a plate is carefully wiped away. And while the pots are ever so carefully stirred, the children and the guests arrive like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that don't quite fit together. But why the vigilance and the slight tension? Tonight is the celebration of Edoardo, Sr.'s birthday, the founder of the fabric company that has brought unfathomable wealth to each family member attending. But the ailing Edoardo, Sr. has more on his mind than just luxuriating in his kin's annually voiced good wishes. Tonight he plans to step down from his leadership post and announce his successors. He does so after dessert, unexpectedly splitting the company's control between his son Tancredi and his grandson Edoardo, Jr. (Flavio Parenti). His explanation: two men are needed to fill his shoes. His only request: the business most remain in the family. But Tancredi, with his ego now aching, has other goals for the company. Foreign buyers are in the wake.

As for his wife Emma, after she encounters the chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a friend of her son Edoardo, Jr., she realizes being the exemplary mother/wife/socialite is not enough for her. Her veneer is about to crack, especially after she goes to Antonio's restaurant and tastes his prawns. So the set is staged: Emma's in love, her daughter Elisabetta's going gay, Edoardo's engaged and opening a restaurant with Antonio, Tancredi's palms are itching, and that's just for starters. Accompanied by the rousing, Oscar-worthy compositions of John Adams (Nixon in China), the characters scurry this way and that in their self-importance. But Guadagnino and his acclaimed cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (Swimming Pool; Sitcom) have something else in mind.

Here, as in Todd Haynes's Safe, the furniture, the rooms, the buildings, and nature are laughing quite a bit onto themselves as these merely ephemeral creatures called humans walk about not realizing their own insignificance. Making insignificance quite majestic, Swinton, who worked seven years on this project, continues to prove she's Britain's Meryl Streep. Like a pigeon imprisoned in a church, her Emma constantly flies towards freedom, only to be thwarted again and again. Here she plays the Russian daughter of an art restorer who married a Recchi and found that not only was she renamed, but reinvented into an Italian blue blood, uneasily embracing all that entails until true love rears its youthful head. But is Eros too late? Maybe Elisabetta says it best when asked whether she is happy. She replies: "Happy? Happy is a word that makes one sad." (By the way, check out the masterful coiffures of hair stylist Manolo Garcia. There's a reason he's won a Goya Award for his past tress creations.)