Cucina par­adiso

I Am Love, melo­drama, rated R, in Ital­ian with sub­ti­tles, Re­gal DeVargas, 3.5 chiles

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Emma Rec­chi (Tilda Swin­ton) is not so much a tro­phy wife as an ob­jet d’art. Col­lected by her wealthy Ital­ian hus­band Tan­credi (Pippo Del­bono) on an art-buy­ing tour of Rus­sia, she has be­come the per­fect Mi­lanese ma­tron, mother of three Rec­chi heirs, CEO of a per­fectly func­tion­ing house­hold, and con­sum­mate host­ess whose eye is on the spar­row of mi­nut­est de­tail.

But in Luca Guadagnino’s ex­quis­ite tale of dor­mant pas­sion awak­ened, change is the only con­stant. Emma has mor­phed be­yond recog­ni­tion from the Rus­sian girl she was; even her orig­i­nal name has been dis­carded. But to be­lieve that things stop mov­ing once we think we have them right is to be blinded by hubris. Ev­ery breath, ev­ery tick of the clock brings change.

The sands are al­ready shift­ing in the open­ing scene, where we see the prepa­ra­tions for a sump­tu­ous for­mal ban­quet to cel­e­brate the birth­day of the fam­ily’s ag­ing pa­tri­arch, Edoardo Rec­chi Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti). The cam­era moves from the soft gray cold of a Mi­lan un­der a blan­ket of snow to the brit­tle warmth of the Rec­chi man­sion, a magic king­dom of lux­ury and priv­i­lege. Be­fore

I Am Love,

con­tin­ued from Page 64 the soup is served, we learn that young Edoardo Jr. (Flavio Par­enti), the el­dest son of Emma and Tan­credi, has lost a race, pre­sum­ably a foot race, that af­ter­noon. Edo never loses. Rec­chis never lose. It’s a mildly stun­ning devel­op­ment, a crack in the wall of priv­i­leged in­vin­ci­bil­ity, though Edo shrugs it off with grace­ful good hu­mor.

Even the guy who won the race seems over­whelmed. He is a young chef, and he ar­rives at the door of the man­sion that evening with a cake he has baked for Edo as a ges­ture of apol­ogy. More of him in a moment.

The next item on the menu of change is ex­pected, but the fla­vor of the dish turns out to be a shocker. Edoardo Sr., as ex­pected, an­nounces his re­tire­ment as head of the fam­ily tex­tile em­pire. But he does not, as ex­pected, hand the reins to Tan­credi alone. “It will take two men to re­place me,” the pa­tri­arch an­nounces with smug self-sat­is­fac­tion, and splits the crown be­tween his son and his old­est grand­son. The older man has ex­pe­ri­ence and a head for busi­ness. The younger one has ideals. It’s an un­pre­dictable mix­ture.

Noth­ing stays the same. Change ar­rives on all lev­els. There is death and con­cep­tion. The daugh­ter (Alba Rohrwacher) changes her artis­tic medium from draw­ing to pho­tog­ra­phy and her sex­ual pref­er­ence from men to women. The Rec­chi em­pire is drawn to­ward the cold em­brace of glob­al­iza­tion. Emma cuts her hair. And on, and on.

But the truly mo­men­tous up­heaval comes when Emma bites into a shrimp. It has been pre­pared for her by An­to­nio (Edoardo Gab­briellini), the fleet-footed chef who has be­come a friend and prospec­tive busi­ness part­ner of young Edo. The flame is first kin­dled when An­to­nio, with the time-hon­ored em­brace of a ten­nis pro in­struct­ing a pal­pi­tat­ing lady pupil, shows Emma how to use a culi­nary torch. But it is when she tastes that shrimp that Emma’s emo­tional cli­mate change is fully trig­gered. Her eyes close, her breast swells, color tinges her pal­lid cheeks, a look of pure rap­ture steals over her face, her heart races, her thighs un­clench, the light­ing changes, the mu­sic swells, the world re­cedes. I want that recipe.

It is not just in men, it turns out, that the stom­ach pro­vides a short­cut to the heart. From this moment on, Emma is a woman re­born, and it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore her in­hi­bi­tions, her clothes, and her care­fully con­structed world come tum­bling down.

An­to­nio is not ex­actly a hunk. He’s sen­si­tive and tal­ented, but the point is that it is his abil­ity to ig­nite the soul through the palate that opens Emma like a blos­som. In this ex­quis­ite tale of dor­mant pas­sion awak­ened, change is

the only con­stant.

Much has been made by crit­ics of the di­rec­tor’s in­debt­ed­ness to Ital­ian masters like De Sica, Pa­solini, and es­pe­cially Vis­conti. He uses a pow­er­ful John Adams score to ca­ress and to lash, and there are scenes where the mu­sic wades in with the force of a char­ac­ter. The cam­era work is sump­tu­ous (and how should it be oth­er­wise, with a cin­e­matog­ra­pher glo­ri­ously named Yorick Le Saux). Guadagnino molds these im­ages into tableaux that are as cool and for­mal as Re­nais­sance paint­ings in the first part of the movie and that loosen and sprawl as the story takes its tum­ble into the mael­strom of emo­tional and sex­ual re­lease, and moves from the Mi­lan man­sion to a Lig­urian meadow for love among the birds and the bees. As Emma writhes naked be­neath the fierce Mediter­ranean sun, concerned mur­murs of “sun­block!” will rip­ple through the house.

Swin­ton (who also pro­duced) dom­i­nates the movie. Speak­ing in an el­e­gantly Rus­sian-in­flected Ital­ian, she runs the house­hold and the fam­ily with the author­ity of a gen­eral and the pas­sion of an ac­coun­tant. When the first shock waves of change hit her, she ab­sorbs them in­ter­nally; very lit­tle shows on the sur­face, but there’s a lot hap­pen­ing just out of sight. She’s an ac­tress whose ev­ery film seems to have crit­ics declar­ing it her best per­for­mance and the role she has been wait­ing for.

There is no get­ting around the fact that this is el­e­gant soap opera, with the soar­ing emo­tional sweep of a Dou­glas Sirk melo­drama. It won’t ap­peal to ev­ery taste. But it’s sen­sa­tional to look at and pow­er­fully acted, and it delivers a bang for the emo­tional buck.

A new day prawn­ing: Tilda Swin­ton and Mattia Zac­caro

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