I Am Love opens tomorrow at the Magic Lantern

I Am Love feels like a period drama. It’s intended that way, I think. The period, though, isn’t exactly clear. The costumes feel like 20th-century Mediterranean chic, the kind that you’d see as often in The Talented Mr. Ripley as a mid-‘80s Ralph Lauren ad. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux often feels like a gauzy, dandelion-hued ode to ‘60s American independent film. The automobiles appear to be contemporary.

And so the viewer spends a good deal of time wondering where the hell we are. They’re speaking Italian. That’s a clue at least.

By the third act, things are clearer. Props tell us it’s post-1994 and the blithe ruminations of the idea that capital can turn even war into an opportunity for third-world development put it clearly pre-September 11.

We’ve seen a textile mill, the source of the Recchi family’s extravagant wealth, which means we began the film in Milan, in the Recchi’s mid-century palazzo. (It’s ultimately a strength of the film, not a weakness, that we are continually looking back at the beginning as facts about place and time are revealed.)

The patriarch of the family, after saying the mill is his ticket to posterity and that it should be run well after his death, bequeaths control to his son, Tancredo, and Tancredo’s son Edoardo.

This creates business drama — Tancredo wants out from under his father’s legacy and Edo, always favored by granddad, wants to follow in the old man’s footsteps. But the Recchi fortune is really just an elaborate backdrop to a study on sexual politics, longing and self-determination in a time when personal freedoms — especially for the super-rich — have never been greater.

It turns out the daughter is a lesbian pursuing a career as a photographer rather than a painter, much to the displeasure of the elder Recchi. Edo is mindful of his family’s legacy, but more enamored of financing art. He spends the film trying to help his pauper friend Antonio open a restaurant in San Remo. It seems possible throughout that Edo and Antonio might also be lovers. Emma, the mother (Tilda Swinton), is Russian by birth but thoroughly Italian at this point. She seems content to run the house the way wealthy wives are expected to, until she’s not. Read more