Photo: Magnolia Pictures / AP Photo
"I Am Love" may be the best food movie in years. But it's not the food porn you might expect.
"I Am Love," Italian director Luca Guadagnino's strange, beautiful film is set in modern-day Milan but, from the first strains of composer John Adams' tense score and 1950s-style credits, it evokes the melodramas of an earlier era, nodding to masters like Hitchcock and Sirk. Tilda Swinton, who co-produced the film, also stars as Emma Recchi, the Russian wife of a wealthy Italian textile maker. She falls in love with a young chef, Antonio, who happens to be the friend and business partner of her son. This being melodrama, the romance comes at a heavy price.
So what does all of this have to do with food? Nothing – and everything. A crimson arabesque of prawns sets the affair in motion, and later a delicate fish broth will lead to the plot's unraveling. These dishes are exquisitely created by Milanese chef Carlo Cracco and photographed by Yorick Le Saux but they make only brief appearances. Their true force comes from the direction and virtuoso performances.
Take the prawn scene: as soon as Antonio sets them before her, Swinton's hard-planed, Modigliani-mask of a face softens, her eyes widening with her first revelatory bite. The film reminds us that food, like the other arts, not only plays on our senses but also has the power to transport, to elevate, to stir the soul (and maybe something else – the U.K.'s Independent observed that the scene evoked both "sensuous and erotic rapture"). Guadagnino, who once considered becoming a chef, has called food a "tool to express the utter giving that a lover can display to the other without words." "I Am Love" is a gift from one food lover to the rest of us.