Luca Guadagnino’s I am Love (Io sono l’amore) is a work of intriguing dichotomy. Steadfastly modern in its mores and turn-of-the-millennium time frame, the film is populated by the Recchi family, haughty aristocratic types who carry themselves with that rarefied air of old-school European royalty. Bound by manners and class-based rituals in even their most private moments, they are soon revealed as spirits eager to soar – a wife (the luminous Tilda Swinton), in a lustful coupling with a younger man in fields of flowing grass; a daughter (Alba Rohrwacher), on a journey of same-sex discovery; a son (Flavio Parenti), in a battle between family honour and big business ethics.
Grand in every way, I Am Love overwhelms in its loving adherence to a giddy sense of pulsating melodrama. This approach, which wildly divided critics and audiences when the film premiered, suggests that Guadagnino was influenced by the American oeuvre of German-born, Hollywood-based director, Douglas Sirk. Never fully appreciated until after his passing, Sirk’s films (most famously, 1959’s Imitation of Life and 1955’s All That Heaven Allows), were lushly photographed, richly textured studies of suburban married life and captured the dark undercurrents and desperate secret longings that often fractured "the American dream".
I am Love tackles similar themes, melding deeply embedded desires and corrosive treacheries with the volatility of wealth and tradition. Whereas Sirk made his characters’ homes their white-picket castles, Guadagnino had the stunning backdrop of Italy’s north-western Liguria region in which to construct his morality tale. Location work in the small rural village of Dolceacqua reflect the earthy carnal passions consuming Swinton’s Russian-born matriarch; while the bustling centres of Milan and, briefly, London, capture the all-or-nothing corporate culture threatening to brutally undo decades of honourable dealings.
But the primary location of Guadagnino’s study in familial disintegration is the Villa Necchi Campiglio, a mid-1930s Milanese masterpiece of Italian rationalist architecture by designer Piero Portaluppi. Cold, sharp edges carved from marble, curved mortar rendering and dark steel trappings, it reflects the beautiful but, ultimately, brittle facade under which the Recchi clan live.
Guadagnino’s strikingly designed staging of their tragic undoing ensures I am Love is an "art" film, to be sure, but one that reflects the grand sadness of operatic theatre and the occasionally hard-to-fathom machinations of your favourite soap opera. Though the Recchi family exists in a world unfamiliar to most of us, the very things that shatter their lives – sex, violence, betrayal and destiny – are universal.
Watch I Am Love on SBS On Demand here.
Create your own Ligurian feast
Look to this north-western Italian region for dinner inspiration.