This extravagant melodrama starring Tilda Swinton is both ridiculous and sublime. As the Russian-born trophy wife of a rich industrialist in Milan, she falls in love with her son's friend, a chef perhaps 25 years her junior. The doomed, mad passion is like Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary reduced to operatic essentials: big family meals, mansions, funerals, parties, ecstatic scenes of nature, food, and sex. Indeed, director Luca Guadagnino receives a huge assist from the insistent, thrumming score by American composer John Adams. The film gets by on very little dialogue as Emma—yes, just like Flaubert's heroine—is propelled by forces she knows she should resist. Guadagnino charts her affair with the changing seasons. In high summer, as Emma and her lover rut in the woods, the camera cuts away to insects and verdant green life: Nature will have its way, no matter what the constraints of family, wealth, and propriety. I Am Love is luxuriously shot like a Vanity Fair spread, but the story isn't European lifestyle porn. It's about a woman who's suppressed her old identity, then discovers new passion will cost her her family.
Swinton's mother is stirred by the new love of her daughter (Alba Rohrwacher, at right).
Opens at Seven Gables, Fri., June 25. Rated R. 120 minutes.