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CARRYING A TORCH: Tilda Swinton falls for chef Edoardo Gabbrilini in 'I Am Love.'

Independence Day

Tilda Swinton's a stunner in 'I Am Love'

By Richard von Busack

THE BEAUTY of I Am Love is perplexing; it's as bewildering as the beauty of its star, the lean Scottish redhead Tilda Swinton. Like Julianne Moore, Swinton is a congenitally brave actress who has matured into a performer who is almost inhumanly free of self-consciousness. Swinton, now nearing 50, is a vision: clear-eyed, short-haired and immaculately dressed for this expensive romance.

Director Luca Guadagnino begins with arresting images of Milan in winter: locked tight under a foot of snow, the place is a city of fortresses suffused with icy mist. As John Adams' tense music from Nixon in China simmers away, we survey a villa of almost Soviet brutality: the home of the Recchis, a family that made its millions in the textile trade. The family is gathering for the big annual event, the birthday celebration of the patriarch. The pretentious old man is played by the legendary Gabriel Ferzetti, and his somewhat younger wife is Marisa Berenson, glazed as pottery and stretched with cosmetic surgery. Old Eduoardo plans to retire and pass on the business to the next generation.

The heir presumptive—the handsome and kind grandson Edo (Flavio Parenti)—is bypassed for reasons only the Recchis would understand. He lost a race of some sort, in which it was a family tradition to compete and win. It's enough of a dishonor that they tease him about it throughout the dinner. But the decision is made; the direction of the company is given to Edo's father, Tancredi, played by Pippo Delbono, a sinister party who looks like a hybrid of Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover.

The story resumes a few months later, with the old man dead and Tancredi completely consumed by the family business in London. His wife, Emma (Swinton), always solitary, is now more alone than usual amid the heavy stones and dismal paintings of the villa. Adding keenness to Emma's loneliness is the discovery of the secret love life of her grown daughter (Alba Rohrwacher). But Emma is distracted by a new character: a chef who caters the family's formal banquets. Antonio (Edoardo Gabbrilini) is a handsome devil with a tattooed bracelet. Unfortunately, this chef is her son Edo's new best friend.

Guadagnino touches upon the best novels about adultery: the name Emma, as in Bovary, is certainly significant. There's a most explicit love scene in the mountains near San Remo that'll be too fulsome for some, but which is as pure a visualization of Lady Chatterley's Lover as we'll see: flowers, fruit and drowsy insects surround Antonio and Emma as they make love in the grass.

I Am Love is a rich movie—a banquet, certainly—and the richness of it may seem off-putting; in these times, there's so much financial suffering that many may be impatient with the problems of a luxuriously clad woman of leisure. But this classic drama of adultery–spare in plot, fascinating in design–is a revenge of the world of art on the world of property. And we haven't seen one this well framed in a long time.

I AM LOVE (R; 120 min., with subtitles), directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Tilda Swinton, Pippo Delbono and Edoardo Gabbrilini, opens Friday.

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