Can there be a finer place to have a romantic meltdown than northern Italy? Like this spring’s gushingly operatic Vincere, the swooning I Am Love foregrounds its surroundings; breathing in the rarefied air is almost worth the heartache. Snow swirls in Milan as a wealthy clan assembles behind the gated walls of its estate. As slightly remote matriarch Emma, Tilda Swinton busies herself with seating arrangements. (Capable of anything, the star also seems to be speaking perfect Italian with a Russian accent.) Her greying husband and handsome son are about to co-assume control of the family factory, but who’s this cute chef, Antonio (Gabbriellini), at the door?
Don’t confuse any of the above for earthy flirtation. That comes later. Director Luca Guadagnino is having so much fun setting up the Kubrickian chill (even Barry Lyndon’s Marisa Berenson is on hand) that when Emma and the much younger Antonio finally come together in warming San Remo, their tryst almost sneaks up on you.
Warning: it’s probably not a good idea to tug too hard on the plot. You’ll only be left with a high-toned MILF melodrama. But swaddled in its exquisite craft, I Am Love positively soars. Pulitzer-winning composer John Adams stirs in some gorgeous minimalism as high-couture clothes get shucked, and even Antonio’s beautifully plated dishes pull on the senses. (A crucial revelation comes in a bowl of soup.) Worthy of Visconti, the movie spells out the end of a family’s glory days; it’s the impress-your-date film of the summer. Joshua Rothkopf