4 stars, (R)
It gets melodramatic, but that's fine, because director Luca Guadagnino recognizes and embraces the melodrama. I Am Love (lo sono l'amore) is lush and filled with directorial quirks (probably too many for some). At times John Adams' score deserves an acting credit. Visually, the dramatic goings-on are presented with an eye for details. You know those portraits that are made up of hundreds of tiny photographs? That's what Guadagnino does here - he establishes and maintains a sense of credibility through his presentation of many odd, but elegant details, then uses those details to build the big picture, veering into melodrama. But you accept the cheese because you've already been drawn in by all those details. Well, I accepted it. Your mileage may vary.
Then there's the acting. Tilda Swinton stars, and she has never been better. Swinton (The Deep End, Michael Clayton, Burn After Reading, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), is a remarkably gifted performer, aided by her great face, which looks fresh-scrubbed and beautiful in a beguilingly everyday sense. I'm sure the make-up staff do all sorts of things, but I never think about that when I watch Swinton. She seems too real for make-up to adhere to her skin. Her characters are like that - so real that they seem to have stepped in from the next room, not the edge of the stage.
Truth be told, I barely paid attention to the story. I was drawn in so completely by the acting and the presentation style that I gave little thought to the plot lines. The Altman-esque production takes you from moment to moment in the lives of these people. The plot points seem incidental.
The synopsis for the movie says "A tragic love story set at the turn of the millennium in Milan. The film follows the fall of the haute bourgeoisie due to the forces of passion and unconditional love." Basically, the family business is left not just to the head-of-household's son Tancredit (Pippo Delbono), but to grandson Edo (Flavio Parenti) as well, raising eyebrows within the family.
Swinton plays Emma, Tancredit's wife, a Russian woman who abandoned her identity when she moved to Milan (the film is in Italian, Russian and English, with subtitles). She soon meets Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a gifted chef and a close friend of her hubby. Guess what happens?
The rest of the cast is solid - I especially liked Gabbriellini, who plays Antonio's passion for food as romantically as he plays his romantic scenes with Emma. Speaking of romance, wait until you get a look at the first coupling of Emma and Antonio. Guadagnino uses close-ups of the various body parts with shots of flowers and insects, because it's ALL SO NATURAL. Sure, the montage is hammy, but it's fun to watch an ambitious director overreach on occasion. Other flourishes, like an incongruous spotlight on Emma, work better. As for the use of music, especially towards the end, you may love it's daring prominence, or you may find it off-putting.
Some writers have dismissed I Am Love as soap opera with delusions of grandeur. Funny, that's why I liked it.