Who is love in I Am Love (Io sono l'amore)? Depending on the viewer's interpretation, the title may be ironic or ominous in this tragic Italian film (released with English subtitles).
The logical guess for the title role is Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton). Emma is a Russian import to a large and successful Italian family, married to the heir of the Recchi family business and mother of three adult children. The first half of the movie details Emma's building dissatisfaction with her comfortable life, as the lives of everyone around her begin to change. Her children are making adult decisions about love and life (the eldest son getting married, the daughter announcing she is homosexual); her husband is thinking of selling the business. Yet nothing in Emma's life appears to change; she remains behind closed curtains-symbolism used throughout the movie-and shut away from even her own interests.
Emma becomes inspired by her daughter's experimental life choices to remodel her life. Director and writer Luca Guadagnino uses soft light, filmy glows, blurred shots, and a dramatic score in an attempt to distract the audience from what is essentially a simple story of a married woman having an affair with a younger man.
The camera lingers on quivering flowers, succulent shrimp, and bare skin (the movie is rated R for sexuality and nudity) with equal affection, as if to say, "All of this is natural and should be enjoyed." Fortunately, the movie does not ignore the consequences. While his mother pursues his friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), son Edoardo struggles with the ethics of the Recchi business. When Edoardo's desire to do the right thing finally confronts his mother's quest for pleasure, tragedy strikes the entire family.
I Am Love appears to have a values-driven message, but it is not a hopeful one. The climactic moment is unbelievably selfish, and if there is a lesson somewhere in this story it is one that Emma chooses not to learn.