Sensual pleasure leads to personal tragedy for Emma Recchi in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love – but the truly fascinating part of the film is the fate of the family textile firm.

I am loveAs the title suggests this is a classic exploration of passion, lust and family breakdown. Opulent wealth allows the Recchi clan to enjoy all that is best in the world with élan and pure pleasure.

Emma (Tilda Swinton) is impassioned by the delectable culinary delights from her son’s best friend Antonio’s (Edoardo Gabbriellini) restaurant. Inevitably such visceral stimulation spills over into a love affair.

The climax of the film comes when the son, Edoardo (Flavio Parenti), discovers his mother’s infidelity and through an act of God meets a tragic end.

The obvious feminist reading of this narrative is she is being punished for breaking from traditional family – and that does stand.

While this sumptuous tale of love and downfall is dominating the screen with beautifully choreographed complexity the director also play out a sub-plot which raises interesting questions about how capitalism itself is changing.

The Recchi textile business has delivered considerable wealth and success but its founder Edoardo Sr (Gabriele Ferzetti) – Emma’s father in law – has to retire.

Agrarian, organic existence
Like a scene from King Lear he makes the tragic error of dividing his estate and putting more than one successor in charge: his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) but also unexpectedly his grandson – Emma’s son – Edoardo (Flavio Parenti).

Tancredi represents hardened business sense. He tells his new partner Edoardo that the firm in fact made its money exploiting Jewish victims of fascism and no sentimentality is allowed when sacking large numbers of the workforce.

Edoardo, although the younger, represents a romantic idealism about old capital. He wants to invest in his friend’s restaurant simply because it is good. He resists the job cuts. And when it comes to selling the textile firm and investing in finance he again is the partner who objects.

And it is at this point he meets his death: in the struggle between what the film represents as old, human, gentile capital and the new value free, quick return London based immaterial capital the former cannot survive.

Edoardo’s undoing is sentimentality and the desire for an old order – represented in his anguish at his mother’s breaking of family codes – which leads to his death.

Indeed, Emma’s love is for an agrarian, organic existence. In contrast his father agrees the sale and coldly disowns his adulterous wife – allowing him to survive for another day’s business.

London in the film represents the new capitalism with Milan the old. There is a temptation to force the metaphor and suggest the transfer of family funds to finance capital results in chaos and discord across their lives.

But this is based more on what we know of short selling, derivative trading and toxic debt. The film’s message remains that those who do not move forward, abandoning any form of benevolent capitalism, are history.

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