The First Taste: Revealing Desire and Identity in I Am Love
by Lan Vy Phan
I Am Love, whose original Italian title is Lo Sono L'amore, revolves around the wealthy Recchi family, who reside in a lavish villa located in Milan, Italy. Their meals are elaborate affairs, meticulously equipped with fine china, luxurious seating, and rigid adherence to social conventions. These meals only run smoothly thanks to Emma, who marries into this dazzling aristocratic lifestyle. Emma, who left Russia to live with her husband, Tancredi Recchi, adopts the role of a hostess, successfully integrating herself in the Recchi family as a detail-oriented and genial wife—at least on the exterior. The opening scene involves her reviewing the dishes in the kitchen and planning out the seating arrangements for her father-in-law, Eduardo Sr.’s birthday. Everything is presented step by step like an orchestrated performance, and Emma is satisfied to witness nothing go wrong. Although she shows no signs of discontent, it is obvious that Emma is not completely fulfilled with her life in Italy. Emma’s current life is like a beautifully plated dish, but one devoid of personal flavor or choice because she is subjected to familial hierarchy and Italian culinary traditions. Although it is Emma who is in charge of organizing the entire dinner, the individual who wields the most power is Eduardo Sr., who sits at the head of the table as the main patriarch. Emma takes a place on Eduardo's left, while her husband takes the opposite end of the table. She is seated at a place where she can observe everyone else, ensuring that they are enjoying the food and each other. Once she fulfills her duty, she retreats back to her room, a routine that occurs during every special occasion. Her complacency is challenged by her son, Eduardo Jr. who professes his love for his mother’s homemade ukha, a traditional Russian soup, clear in color and including fish. This dish is served at the birthday dinner, and when it is presented, the son and mother share a knowing glance with one another and smile sweetly. Their dynamic and the role of food unveils Emma's hidden desires, establishing her identity as an individual separate from the Recchi family.
During the dinner, the members of the Recchi family express disappointment upon hearing the news that Eduardo places second in a horse racing competition on his grandfather’s birthday. Conversely, Eduardo Jr. is not upset but rather eager to introduce the new friend he has made from the loss, Antonio, who is an incredibly talented chef. When Emma meets Antonio, she is pleasantly surprised by the innate artistry he possesses. While the Recchi family meals represent control and restraint, Antonio's cooking embodies passion and sensuality as seen in his plates ordained with delicate flora. In a later scene, Emma has the chance to try one of his dishes, an elevated prawn dish, and is amazed. While the two other Recchi women are engrossed in a conversation, Emma is hyper-focused on trying the food. Along with the two lamps, Emma, in her bright red dress, is the only thing that illuminates the scene. This draws attention away from the conversation to Emma's first encounter with Antonio's food, which strays from the traditional Italian dishes she is accustomed to. Her moment is only interrupted by Antonio approaching her. Although she is initially infatuated by his skill, Emma eventually falls in love with Antonio and they partake in a passionate love affair.
Eduardo Jr. begins to grow suspicious when he pays a visit to Antonio, but misses his presence only to find a lock of hair that resembles his mother’s. He finally catches on when another dinner occurs in the family villa, and ukha is presented again-- only now, the dish is made by Antonio. This scene nearly mirrors the previous, except now instead of a smile, Eduardo Jr. is seething with rage. He storms out of the room realizing the development of Antonio and Emma’s relationship. Tragically, his anger leads to a fatal accident, forcing Emma to confront the devastating consequences of her actions. Struck simultaneously with grief and the realization that she can no longer be entangled with the Recchi family, Emma frantically returns to the villa to pack her belongings and disappears without a trace.
In I Am Love, food becomes a metaphor for desire, transformation, and personal liberation. Emma and Antonio’s shared veneration for the culinary arts leads not only to their entanglement, but also the unraveling of the picture-perfect Recchi family.
Lo Sono L'amore (I Am Love). Dir. Luca Guadagnino Perf. Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, and Edoardo Gabbriellini. Mikado Film, 2009. Streaming.