It all started with beige. Beige in the grandiose dining room of the Recchi villa, beige in Emma’s knit sweater and khakis as she prepares for her father-in-law’s birthday dinner. When the guests arrive, Emma changes into a conservative rich purple dress of a 1940s silhouette, her hair down a la Grace Kelly. She is silent as the men are talking business and speaks only to play the part of supportive mother. The wardrobe that follows is a range of light gray-blues and whites, worn as Emma performs her daily errands.
I have adored Tilda Swinton ever since I saw Orlando (Sally Potter, 1992) – mainly because of the film’s total dependence on costumes to denote its narrative progression. In Io Sono L’amore (Luca Guadagnino, 2009), costume plays a similar role and Swinton succeeds in wearing them to enhance, not distract, her character development.
Clad exclusively in Jil Sander, Swinton plays Emma Recchi, a porcelain-clean trophy wife of an Italian textile tycoon and a loving mother of two. She spends her days picking up laundry and visiting her husband at his office. Io Sono L’amore speaks of the repression of individuality within the shackles of rituals and order.
The dialogue is minimal and the acting style is bare, but these are compensated by a rich compilation of stylistic elements. John Adams’s operatic score voices the feelings of anger and betrayal that are never properly expressed. The cinematography fluctuates between blurry and bleached out (symbolizing ecstasy) and detailed and revealing (truth). The colours are sometimes muted, sometimes incredibly vibrant. These changes highlight the stages of Swinton’s character development.
This motif is even more obvious in the mise-en-scene, revealing Emma’s true colours. Raf Simons’s sleek, minimalist silhouettes and the emptiness of the setting around her at first echo the quietness of the film. But it is unsettling how Emma’s elegant wardrobe and pale skin set her apart from the rest of the cleavage-bearing and tanned upper-crust Italians. Over the course of the film, this incongruity hints at how Emma’s lifestyle has never been an appropriate fit for her identity or character.
One afternoon Emma, dressed in a vivid blue dress, finds Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) – her son’s friend and a talented chef – in her kitchen. (It is similar to her dinner party ensemble, the night of her first encounter with Antonio.) Their interaction reaches a higher level as they share a love for cooking. Emma’s wardrobe and character are growing bolder.
Their third encounter occurs when Emma lunches at Antonio’s family restaurant. The food arrives; a spotlight is fixed on Emma. She is distinguished from her companions, and appears to experience a deliciously orgasmic experience induced by Antonio’s dish. For this scene, Simons has coloured his grey F/W ’08 dress into a rich, vibrant red.
Emma’s desires and impulses progressively dictate her actions, paralleled by a bolder change of colours and scenery. She drives away to Sanremo in a bright orange dress and in her second visit she wears a pair of orange pants. This major palette change is extreme at first and even out of character – but it soon reveals that being a wealthy trophy wife is not part of her identity after all.
Io sono l’amore (I am Love)
Dir: Luca Guadagnino, 2009
Review by Marsya Maharini