The story is slight and perhaps even melodramatic yet it doesn't seem to matter one bit. Luca Guadagnino's I am Love is a very beautiful meditation on love, or perhaps rather the yearning for love, the erotic longing for something higher and transcendent.
Tilda Swinton is one of the most beautiful and talented actresses working today, inhabiting the character of the Russian working class Emma with such abandon that her performance can be felt both spiritually and physically. You can feel her longing in your gut, her pain in your heart. Swinton learnt both Russian and Italian for the role (she speaks mostly Italian throughout the film, with a Russian accent, a remarkable feat). The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux is very lush and beautiful, reveling in light, sculpting it to reveal the emptiness and coldness of houses too large inhabited by persons apart. But then, as Emma finds an outlet for her passion in the form of a young chef (an excellent Edoardo Gabriellini), her son's friend, the light becomes warm and sensual, dancing over the nature of the Italian countryside and the bodies of the lovers. The film contains one of the most beautiful love scenes I have seen in a long time, a celebration of sexuality as something very noble and beautiful, immensely serious yet also giddy. The music by composer John Adams both deepens the material, revealing layers of the character's emotions rather than dictating those of the viewer, while at the same time representing the larger, universal themes of the film due to its operatic nature, themes of love lost, compromises, erotic longing, the interplay of sorrow and joy.
It was hard for me at first to fully enter into the film. The setting, that of an astoundingly rich, aristocratic Italian family is one that is so alien that the film might as well have been a period piece, taking place in centuries past. Characters' motivations are sometimes extremely obscure and interesting elements and developments drop out of sight rather quickly. The focus of the film shifts from viewing the family as a whole to focusing almost entirely on Swinton's character.
Yet the film is rich and textured and calls for repeated viewings. I certainly look forward to seeing it again. I am Love is without a doubt among the best films I have seen this year, a flawed work in some ways yet whose strengths speak to some of the more majestic elements of the cinematic language, of portraying the inner life of human beings through the interplay of light and shadow, words and music.