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« The Wise Guy| Main| TIFF: Eating the Rich with "Knives Out"»
Tuesday
Sep 10 2019

The New Classics: I Am Love

Michael Cusumanohere to discuss a film that never fails to floor me.

Scene: Prawns
The story of Luca Guadagnino'sI Am Lovepivots on a life-changing plate of prawns.It sounds ridiculous until you pause and remember that life is actually like that.One moment you're having a routine day and the next a flood of emotions is precipitated by an unexpected trigger.These instances are difficult to explain in words,but what are movies for if not the moments when language fails?

Tilda Swinton's character Emma Recchi doesn't realize it,but she is primed for such a moment.A Russian who married into an Italian family of great power,she lives a life of comfort and wealth.She is not unhappy,exactly,nor is she mistreated,but her is existence is a cloistered one and she is expected to play the role assigned to her.In the film's lengthy opening act she oversees a family birthday party that has the coldness of a modern art exhibition...

There is an ember of life at the end of the evening in the form of her son's friend,a chef named Antonio,dropping off a beautifully decorated cake as a gift.It sparks into a fire a few scenes later when Emma and her mother-in-law take her son's fiancé out for lunch at Antonio's restaurant.With its warm color palette,the scene already stands in marked contrast to the austere opening,but it is not until Emma is served the plate of prawns that the flame is turned up to high.Emma's eyes go wide,the ambient sound drops out,and what follows is one of the most ecstatic culinary scenes ever put to film.

What is it about the meal that affects her?We see Antonio,a commoner,in the kitchen crafting the meal with his bare hands.Does the meal offer a spiritual nourishment she's been lacking,an earthy contrast to her pristine,airless home life?Or is it as simple as contact with a work of art awakening that dormant part of her which responds to beauty.Seldom has food been photographed such unabashed sensuality.When Antonio interrupts the meal to introduce himself,Tilda plays it like she has been discovered in an act of extreme intimacy.The ravaged plate of seafood sits exposed,as revealing as an open diary.

Luca Guadagnino doesn't hold back.He and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux pile up the bold gestures even as the scene's audacity threatens to blow out projector bulbs across the world's art houses cinemas.The plate casts a literal glow on Tilda's face and the rest of the scene fades into darkness as the scene fractures into a montage of extreme close-ups.The urgent stirrings of John Adams' swooning music emerge on the soundtrack,the beginning of a crescendo which will eventually reach a heart-bursting climax at the film's end.

It's difficult to imagine the sequence working as well as it does without Swinton at its center.She is a performer who can go as broad as late-period Nic Cage,in things likeSnowpiercer,or display a subtlety that would slip unnoticed into an Ozu film.Here she is asked to do something in between: have emotional communion with a plate of seafood but in a way that keeps both feet down in reality.Her commitment to the idea is so intense she dispels any resistance the audience might have.

And of course,I would be remiss if I didn't mention Tilda's red dress, commissioned by costume designer Antonella Cannarozzi.from designer Raf Simons.Like on the film's poster,it's a costume choice that manages to believably suit the character while dramatically setting her apart.During the meal it links Emma with the prawns,the only other thing that shares that same shade of saturated tomato red.In the brief conversation between Emma and Antonio following the meal it become a visual representation of the arousal she is too appropriate to reveal.As Antonio watches her leave,her dress stands out against the more muted palette of the street.As an image,it so effectively establishes their connection that the ensuing romance requires little by way of explanation.

I suppose I can imagine how it might be too much for some viewers.The red dress,the rapturous music,the impressionistic lighting changes.But to them I suggest seeking out a better class of restaurant.

Previously on "The New Classics"

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Reader Comments (5)

This is beautifully written.

I AM LOVE is one of those movies I feel like I should love but only admired.Actually,I feel the same way about all of Luca Guadagnino's films.Beautiful people beautifully filmed in beautiful settings eating beautiful food and making beautiful love (or yearning or smouldering beautifully),yet I can never fully get inside their skins.Maybe there is a thing as too much beauty.

September 10,2019 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Lee

It really is a good movie… until the last 5 minutes.Then it's Run,Tilda,run!and I thought WTF???

September 10,2019 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

This is still Guadagnino's masterpiece,as it encapsulates everything about him...His impeccable taste in music,his infuriating but delicious indulgences,his exquisite eye and hand with editing,and his deceptively simple stories that burst to vivid life with melodramatic and just plain melodic impulses.

A Bigger Splash is my favorite to rewatch,but the final act of I Am Love is just pure,near wordless,cinematic bliss.It is my favorite of his ending arias,though Suspiria's comes damn close.

September 10,2019 | Unregistered CommenterManny

Thanks,Lynn

September 10,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Cusumano

Thank you for that Michael,you were able to articulate so well some of the thoughts I had when I first watched this incredible film and scene (!) over a decade ago.

September 11,2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

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