SIFF Review: I Am Love is Hot for Tilda Swinton and Hair

A Sweatier-than-usual White Tank Top Movie Review

Every seat was filled in the increasingly humid Egyptian Theatre for I Am Love, the luscious Italian vehicle for Tilda Swinton. Things got so steamy that a woman in front of me took to fanning herself and at one point even the projectionist was overcome and missed a reel transfer.

So it’s somewhat ironic that the film actually starts in frigid Milanese winter.

Read the full review after the jump.

The first sequence is a superb, snowbound introduction of the Recchi family on the occasion of the patriarch’s (Gabriele Ferzetti) birthday, set in the labyrinthine Recchi estate, an architecture of interlocking boxes. We learn that his son, Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) will take over the family’s textile business and the fetching Recchi children Edoardo, Elisabetta and Gianluca (Flavio Parenti, Alba Rohrwacher and Mattia Zaccaro) can go on being spoiled rotten. Crucially, Edoardo’s new pal, the motorbike-racing chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabbrielini), drops by with a cake, thereby endearing him to multiple Recchis.

Glowing like a branch of coral at the center of it all is Emma Recchi (Ms. Swinton), a one-time Russian who married Tancredi and made herself as Italian as the rest of the family.

After a top-notch run through the best of independent-minded cinema (from Orlando to Burn After Reading), Swinton moves now through rooms like French footballer Zinedine Zidane in the late prime of his career, with sinuous, beautiful efficiency. She defines chic, flowing between talk of seating charts with servants and highfalutin discussions of art with guests.

Director Luca Guadagnino has a special talent for rhyming shots. Early in the film, the camera catches an unusual image of Emma wrapping a length of ribbon around her hand.  Seconds later, it returns to Emma’s finger to focus on her astonishing ring, which wraps her finger in waves of diamonds (besides being breathtakingly well done, the sequence reinforces the way Emma is inextricably bound up with her family). 

Due to the demanding catering requirements of the Recchi family and not a little of her own curiosity, Emma finds herself making many trips to San Remo to sample Antonio’s cooking. In one delicious scene, all other characters are darkened by shadow while a spotlight lingers on Emma, who’s eating the most delicious shrimp ever prepared by man.  It was just after this sequence that I decided I Am Love is quite possibly the best film for hair I’ve ever seen — Emma swoops from Grace Kelly’s swept-back To Catch a Thief ’do to Kim Novak’s conch bun in Vertigo. Her mother and sister-in-law are no slouches either, their faces framed with striking dark manes.

I Am Love’s slow-paced family dynamic resembles Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale and its rich, dying empire mood is indebted to Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard.  But it struck me near the end that — as the perfect family unravels in trying to grab even more perfection — the film is more like James Salter’s novel Light Years — the quick cuts to atmospheric shots even mimic his clipped, holistic syntax. At the cliffhanger climax, frantic with missed connections and lost dreams, we see at once that the Recchis have ruined themselves and that life will go on being beautiful anyway.


Coming up at SIFF on Monday, May 24: Cyrus at Neptune; The Chef of South Polar at Harvard Exit and The French Kissers at Admiral