This lovely film is so formally sophisticated that all the design elements both balance each other out and compete for attention. But in this my third viewing it was the costume design which truly impressed me.
The film chronicles the journey of Emma Recchi, a matriarch of an impressively aristocratic Milanese family – an opportunity for the film’s designers to play on ideas of refinement and bourgeois luxury and its trappings. Emma (played by the regal Tilda Swinton) is the ideal canvas for these ideas. She’s the doyenne of a large household, kind but firm with her children and her staff. She is ever-present and central, but unobtrusive – after all, it’s her husband that rules. For most of the film she is dressed in quiet, refined clothes. But in several scenes, she is dressed in astonishing colors, sharply contrasted against Milan’s greys and blues. Immediately you sense she fits uneasily with the scenario of her life. When she transgresses, in the form of a love affair with someone definitely not of her class, her clothes come off first. As she watches her lover undress her slowly, we literally see Milan – and the cloistered urbane refinement it represents – come off her. She moves away from the city toward Antonio’s life, which is firmly grounded in the country and all its colors and fresh natural tastes.
The wonderful eye of Antonella Cannarozzi (who earned an Oscar nomination for her design) and the opportunity to further define a certain type of bourgeois refinement also extends to the rest of the characters. The Recchi men are all somber and dark suits, thick silk ties, and sharp collars. Edoardo, who inadvertently sets off his mother’s transgression, is frequently seen in a t-shirt and his biker jacket – a hint of the rebellion which will come later in the film. His girlfriend, the presumptive addition to the family, is a class outsider – she displays a decolletage which the more restrained and cloistered Recchi wives do not. Even Ida, Emma’s maid, wears linen dresses and silk shirts so crisp there is no doubt as to her familial association.
The well-crafted ending, not coincidentally, is a great moment for clothing in this film. Emma, realizing that she must now flee her bourgeois life, runs home to change out of her clothes, without any explanation to anyone. Her maid, wordless, immediately grasps the situation and in a frenzy packs a suitcase for her mistress. But she realizes that it is in vain, as Emma will not take any of her clothes. They literally represent the baggage of her old life. She leaves in a dark tracksuit. This is costume design at its best.
Io Sono L’Amore (I Am Love). Dir. Luca Guadagnino. First Sun et al., 2009. In Italian and English.