Luca Guadagnino’s lush and swoony romantic 2010 film, “I Am Love,” oozes style — and just a smattering of substance — and will probably remind the baby boomers who watch it of some of the gorgeous foreign make-out movies of their youth.
Back in the 1960s, three of the biggest hits from overseas were “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “A Man and a Woman” and “Elvira Madigan,” all of which contained almost no plot but were relished for their stunning cinematography, beautiful music and unabashed romanticism.
The intellectual crowd went to Bergman and Antonioni flicks, but the real money was made during the 1960s by subtitled fare that was a little bit more down to earth.
You didn’t just watch those films, you immersed yourself in an alternate universe of beautiful, unhappy lovers wandering in the most stunning scenery imaginable.
The three films played in art houses for months — “A Man and a Woman” set up shop at Manhattan’s Paris Theatre for a full year — and then became staples of the repertory/art theaters that thrived in major urban areas and on college campuses in the pre-cable, pre-video era.
The three hits have been largely forgotten — because they were so fluffy — and their high-gloss style of moviemaking more or less vanished in the 1970s when American filmmakers were freed from the studios
and started shooting on location in natural light (The Paramount release “Days of Heaven” in 1978 was as ravishing to look at as any import).
The indie and foreign scene favors gritty fare these days, so “I Am Love” divided critics while finding some favor with sophisticated moviegoers.
Guadagnino follows a wealthy Milan clan — which has made its fortune in the textile business — as the young matriarch Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) becomes romantically involved with one of her son’s friends, a chef Antonio Biscaglia (Edoardo Gabbriellini).
The basic plot could be used for a Harlequin romance, but the director makes each shot, each set, each costume, so stunning to look at, that you might have the feeling of paging through the biggest, most expensive coffee table book ever published.
“I Am Love” contains coincidences and contrivances that would be dismissed out of hand if the movie was any less hypnotically beautiful — Guadagnino even dredges up that soap opera/B-movie device of two people getting into a shoving match that ends with one of them falling, hitting their head on the marble edge of a pool, and dying instantly.
Is this movie a classic for the ages? Probably not.
Did I enjoy savoring every shot? You better believe it.