Connecting One to Home Through Food in I am Love
by Suejette Black
Food carries with it memories. In the film I am Love (2009) food serves to preserve ties to one’s identity and heritage and ultimately be a source of reconnection to one’s true self.
The Russian protagonist, Emma Recchi, married into an influential Italian family and has become so absorbed in the Milan lifestyle that little of her Russian heritage remains identifiable. In the film she even claims “when I moved to Milan, I stopped being Russian” and that she doesn’t even know her real name anymore. One of the only semblances of her Russian home is a dish, Ukha, which is made several times throughout the film and leads to the climax. It is a Russian soup of fish in a clear broth that was made for her by her grandmother and that then became her son’s favorite dish as he grew up.
As she makes the soup with her lover and son’s close friend, Antonio, a whole different side of Emma is seen. She reveals to Antonio her story of how she came to Italy, and a little bit of her background is finally revealed. The cinematographic effects of the scene, seem to transport Emma back to her Russian past and connect her to her home in a way that the viewers have not seen up to this point. As she begins her story the camera does a point of view shot from the window of the house she is in with Antonio and pans out over the Italian rural mountains. The only sounds are her voice, the diagetic sounds of insects, birds, and trees rustling, and soft non-diagetic orchestra music in the background. The sun shines bright in the middle of the shot and causes a sort of magical glare. The natural setting being shown seems to be similar to a memory of home, away from the bustling city life of Milan. As the scene comes back to her cooking Ukha in the kitchen, her outfit alone gives the sense of a change happening within her. It is as if she has removed the fancy Milano façade she has been wearing for decades and a more authentic side of her is coming out. She is dressed in loose pants and a tank top, with a sort of head scarf keeping her hair back. The camera then pans over the set table and into the garden where she and Antonio are picking plants. A brief shot is shown of Antonio cutting her hair into a short bob and then the camera returns to shots of nature. There are close-up or flowers, and leaves, and bees buzzing, all while the orchestra music continues to play. Over these few minutes of shots, Emma appears to experience a reawakening and complete transformation back to someone she used to be. The alternating shots of nature and the rural surroundings, give the sense of her being absorbed back into her natural self.
Ultimately when the Ukha is cooked again by Antonio, their affair comes to light and leads to the tragic death of her son and Emma running away with Antonio. Despite the tragedy, the Ukha seems to save Emma from the life she has been trapped in and brings back the Russian side of her she had almost forgotten. The ability of food to reconnect one to memories and home is exemplified in I am Love.
I Am Love. Dir. Luca Guadagnino. Perf. Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti. Mikado Film, 2009. ITunes. First Sun. Web.