Modern aristocratic family finds its world shattered by infidelity
So intense in its depiction of modern-day aristocracy that it becomes something of a luxury product itself, “I Am Love” reeks of privilege and wealth. Moviegoers with an ounce of class-consciousness might struggle with it, wondering whether characters who have everything else in the world really need our sympathy as well. But eventually the film’s aesthetic qualities — the best money can buy — work their magic, carrying us along with the melodrama despite ourselves.
Set in Milan, the film features a richer-than-rich clan whose fortune was made in textiles, and something about the continual (albeit evertasteful) name-dropping here, with references ranging from fashion and music to the architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron, gives it the air of a feature that was actually produced not by storytellers but by the haute-design world.
We’re introduced to the family at an elaborate birthday party for its patriarch, who sets the
Greek-drama tone by announcing that he is handing the family business over to his grandson Edo instead of to the son who has been expecting to run it.
But that intrigue is petty compared with the story’s main concern, the brutal shift that happens to Edo’s mother (a Russian immigrant who married into the family and allowed upper-crust motherhood to define her entire persona) when she sees her role as a family-builder becoming less important and embraces a passionate affair with a younger man.
That woman, Emma, is played by Tilda Swinton, who on-screen can often appear to be not an actress but a rare breed of hyper-intelligent gazelle, captured on the Serengeti by art-theory Ph.D.s and trained to pretend to be human. She pretends very, very well, but she is not one of us.
Emma falls for a chef who plans to open a restaurant with Edo, and she makes love to him outdoors in scenes sure to arouse the locavores and naturalists in the audience.
She also, of course, triggers a family catastrophe with her infidelity, and one of the key goals in “I Am Love” is apparently to both relish her erotic rapture nonjudgmentally and milk its tragic repercussions, which play out in tableaux set to the increasingly agitated score of highbrow composer John Adams. (That Adams, composer of celebrated operas, would deign to score the film is a measure of Swinton’s sway in the upper tier of the arts world.)
For all its passion, “I Am Love” remains a weirdly cold work, one that is perhaps more spiritually in tune with its above-it-all subjects than it intends to be. Nev- ertheless, it makes an impression that is hard to ignore — particularly for viewers who don’t rush out before the credits, staying to witness the movie’s cryptic, eerie final image. Rating: R for sexuality, nudity. Running time: 2 hours. Theater: Arbor.
Tilda Swinton and Mattia Zaccaro play members of a rich family.
Emma (Tilda Swinton, left) and Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) are part of a family surrounded by privilege and pleasure, but sometimes that’s not enough.