John Adam's Old Work Gets New Life in Luca Guadagnino's New Film I Am Love
Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love is one of my favorite films of the year, and perhaps, of the last few years. When I left the theater I felt elated and uplifted and really moved.
Tilda Swinton stars as Emma Recchi, a Russian woman living in Milan married to the head of a wealthy family. Tilda describes Emma as "a piece of property; she had children and she fulfilled her role and now she finds herself at that point in life when the cage, the prison she has been living in, vividly appears before her eyes with all its explicit drama. Emma comes from a cage, Russia, that she left in the pre-Gorbachev era to have access to the free world. And in the free world she locked herself up in another cage, the family." Emma's chance encounter and subsequent romance with her son's friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a chef who makes the most exquisite prawns ever served and eaten on screen, sets the course for the film's tale of sexual and personal awakening.
The actors, the sets, the clothes all-fantastic, but what I thought was truly powerful was the music used in the film. Described by the New Yorker as an "urgent score", the I Am Love soundtrack is made up of previously released works by the American composer John Adams. It was not written for the film yet seems to work perfectly. Walter Fasano, screenwriter and editor says, "The search for a balance between images/narrative and John Adam's music which for all purposes is a main character in the film played a fundamental role. A moment in the film that I like very much in this sense starts with Emma's arrival in Sanremo and ends with Emma and Antonio first trip to the countryside. The passage from Adam's score, that seems to be written for the images when instead the opposite is true, to the accidental radio montage in the truck, until the deafening concert of the sounds of nature gives a fair idea of this balance."
The soundtrack contains music based on Adams' works including Nixon In China, El Nino, Shakerloops, Death Of Klinghoffer and Century Rolls. My neighbor who first told me about the film told me that it felt like an opera and that becomes so obviously clear with the use of this music. There were scenes in the film that were very Hitchcockian including the scene in which Emma (Tilda Swinton) is following Antonio through the streets of Sanremo. The camera spends a lot of time focused on the back of Emma's head and her perfectly coiffed hair much like Tippi Hedren in The Birds or Marnie. The scene is even more enhanced by the music, which at times here almost seems like a Bernard Herrmann score. I think it is fascinating how one thing like a score written for an opera about Richard Nixon's visit to China can be used in a completely different setting and still seem to fit so perfectly. I admire Luca Guadagnino's vision and his ability to see how that could work.
Not only did I leave the theater elated, but I also walked out of there starving. The food in this film is amazing and was prepared by famed Milan chef Carlo Cracco. He runs Cracco, which was awarded two stars by the prestigious Michelin guide and it was added to The St. Pellgrino World 50 Best Restaurants list. Food is at the center of this film and again drives the narrative with some tragic results. Carlo Cracco comments about food in the film and says, "Cooking is above all communication, because it is where the magic of interchange may take place that ties people together and unites them." If I ever get to Milan I am definitely stopping by Cracco.
I Am Love is a fantastic piece of art. The way it follows this family and this woman through all four seasons -- it begins in winter and ends in the rains of fall -- is extraordinary and truly beautiful. The I Am Love soundtrack is a fantastic piece of re-purposed art containing nine compositions that I think will expose him to a new audience and win him new fans.