There’s a five minute sex scene between Tilda Swinton and Edoardo Gabbriellini in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love that occurs in a field, intercut by random shots of plants being harvested for their sweet sweet nectar by all varieties of insects. This is what cuts it for arthouse cinema nowadays—little more than Looney Tunes-esque collages of steam-engines plowing through tunnels and oil drills pummeling the ground for its juices. In fact, the sheer number of these “artsy” sequences— pornographic or otherwise— overshadow the film’s story, which has honest dramatic potential. Instead, what we’re left with is a two hour string of cooked prawn and people driving places, with occasional bits of narrative tossed in to (hopefully) pull you through. It’s arthouse at its worse—would feel pretentious even in some temporary MoMA exhibition.
Edoardo Recchi Sr (Gabriele Ferzetti) is an aging industrialist who hands his son, Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), and grandson, Edo (Flavio Parenti), the company reigns on his birthday. This joint leadership leads to problems as the two are constantly in disagreement over how employees should be treated, so Tancredi buys his son off with the money to start a restaurant with newfound pal and chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabriellini). As the story progresses, Tancredi’s wife, Emma, falls for the young Antonio; after stalking him around the city for a few hours the couple eventually escape to a personal farm where they make love. The problems in the Recchi company and family grow increasingly complex as the film plods along, leading to an altogether unexpected ending. I say “plods” because the whole narrative is weighed down by several absurdist sequences of people staring lovingly into seafood platters or daydreaming of rolling hillsides. In one food porn scene (and there are many), we’re led to believe Emma fell for Antonio not for his youth or charm, but because he can prepare orgasmic prawn dinners. The pain doesn’t stop there either—one especially horrible sequence transported me to the opening of Manos: The Hands of Fate; while Emma and Antonio drive to the farm for the first time, audiences are treated to random first person shots of a car driving down numerous country backroads—yes, you are the car. I almost fell asleep during the first twenty minutes of this farthouse turd. You’ll teem with anxiety as the Recchi family’s servants prepare grandpa’s birthday dinner; soup urns are beladdled, plates are stacked, dinner tables are set. It’s a thrilling experience right down to the moment the family is seated and—what’s this? Are they serving soup? Holy shit! I didn’t see that coming after twenty minutes of soup preparation. Truly a masterful introduction. Fucking masterful. It also doesn’t help that most of these scenes are played out to the tune of crashing orchestra music. In case you couldn’t tell, I hated this movie. I Am Love aspires to be a cinematic opera, but comes off as some graduate film student’s pretentious on-screen ejaculation.
It’s difficult to say whether the director’s ego got in the way of a genuinely good script or if the whole thing sucked from the get-go. Even as a foreign film, Luca’s characters feel joyless and dull—it’s like he set out to make a Wes Anderson flick without any of the charisma or charm characteristic of his work. This is the final nail in Love’s coffin; as if the artsy interludes and unfitting soundtrack weren’t alienating enough, the dramatis personae is almost entirely comprised of hoity-toity rich folk whose biggest concerns are whether a chef can cook favorite childhood fish dishes or if firing lower-level employees goes against the family company’s reputation. It’s something ninety-nine percent of the public can’t relate to, which is probably why this bad boy will remain in limited release until its DVD street date.