As unrepentantly grandiose and ludicrous as its title, Luca Guadagnino's visually ravishing third feature suggests an epic that Visconti and Sirk might have made after they finished watching Vertigo and reading Madame Bovary while gorging themselves on aphrodisiacs. That it works so wellï¿½despite frequently risible dialogue ("Happy is a word that makes one sad") and a notion of feminism that carbon-dates around the time Kate Chopin published The Awakeningï¿½is a testament to the film's loony sincerity and seductive voluptuousness. Guadagnino's "social melodrama" is anchored by the magnificence of Tilda Swinton, who plays Emma Recchi, the unhappy, unfulfilled Russian wife of a Milanese industrialist and mother of three adult children whose carnal desires surface after her son's friend, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), prepares her a plate of perfectly seasoned shrimp. There's nothing especially novel, of course, about exploring the soul-crushing emptiness of marriage to a titan of industry. But I Am Love may be the first film in which the lonely heroine finds inspiration in her daughter's lesberation. For all its corny social studies, I Am Love never forgets the lust that drives its narrative. Swinton and Gabbriellini make an extremely foxy couple, her translucent flesh complemented by his dark hair and beard. Their assignations are all action, little talk; when Guadagnino focuses solely on the primal, the effect is spellbinding. Only the words get in the way.
June 25-July 2, 2010