Starring Italian-speaking Tilda Swinton, "I Am Love" is a melodramatic but glorious view of love's first blush, now playing at the Seven Gables.

Share story

Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love” is like a lavish Italian opera in which nobody sings; unashamedly melodramatic and gloriously over the top. It dances, a little crazily, with self-indulgence but never embraces it. There’s something about the film’s juicy, stirring close-ups of birds and bees and fruit that feels almost innocent, like it’s moving beyond cliché — the way love feels when it strikes for a first time.

Love has struck Emma (Tilda Swinton) unexpectedly, and left her seeing the world a different way. She is the wife of a wealthy Italian businessman (Pippo Delbono), and the mother of two grown children who are beginning to lead their own lives, away from the family’s vast Milan mansion. One day, she meets her son’s friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a handsome young chef. Their first meeting seems innocuous, but suddenly on a subsequent meeting, sparks bloom, lightning strikes and a passionate, Lady Chatterley’s Lover-esque affair begins.

It’s not an unfamiliar story — nor is the tragedy that follows it — but Guadagnino keeps everything unexpected, from the way cinematographer Yorick Le Saux captures the heavy, grayish light of winter in Milan (it’s oppressive and muffling, like a too-thick blanket) to John Adams’ recklessly dramatic score as it climbs from fever pitch to even higher. Even the change of seasons feels like high drama: the late-summer sunshine catches Swinton’s pale beauty and seems to magnify it; the autumn rain makes statues weep.

All of this rampant unsubtlety won’t be to everyone’s taste — “I Am Love” divided audiences at SIFF last month — but I found it exhilarating; a wildly colorful mosaic of emotion with something beautiful in every frame. And Swinton, speaking Italian (is there anything she can’t do?), lights up the movie like an ash-white torch, making this swirling story suddenly small and private. She is love, and she is changed — no matter what the consequences.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com