Lost identity in Luca Guadagnino's "I am love"
Quando sono arrivata a Milano,
ho dovuto imparare a essere Italiana.
A couple of years ago when I had accidentally stumbled upon this movie and I was totally amazed by it. Extremely sensual narration resembled poetry which was in turn translated into physical action on film. Beautiful scenes fed all the audience senses and each moment seemed to be lived together with the protagonists.
To sum up it is a genuine pleasure to watch, but it is also an occasion to think of the main character in terms of identity, especially the concept of the core and shifting identities described on FOI blog by Arvind Bhatt.
So, let me unveil the personality of our lady. Emma Recchi is a daughter of a Russian antiquarian and the wife of a wealthy Italian industrialist. Conditions seem to be favourable for her. Being able to leave the Soviet Union she lands in elegant Milan. Emma manages her home based in a majestic art deco villa, organizes society dinners, and wears the finest dresses and jewellery. Unfortunately, all comes at a high price. In Emma's case it is leaving not only her country, her relatives and family, but also her previous identity behind.
The feeling of something being wrong, the feeling that there is something disturbing in this world of perfection stays with the viewer throughout the film. Everything appears too good to be true. Indeed, as we follow the plot Emma's enviable life turns out to be only an impeccable wrapping. Family affairs appear perfect only at first sight.
Emma has no real connection with her daughter’s real life and only accidentally discovers that she is a lesbian. Her feelings towards her husband seem banal and non-existent, to the point where we question if she ever loved him at all. She tries to be a perfect daughter-in-law and that results in fear and a restriction of her own views and opinions. She even gives up her real name for Emma and completely forgets her real origins. Sometimes she has a quick word in Russian with her elder son and that, and the remnants of her Russian accent when she is speaking Italian appears to be all that is genuine about her, and what is left from her core. Despite ubiqitous abundance of earthly possessions, which many would envy, life in her golden cage is dull due to the lack of emotional and spiritual dimensions.
And then suddenly it comes: The critical event that would ultimately expose the chasm in Emma’s life and turn her world upside down. One day Emma meets her son's friend, Antonio. Their mutual attraction catalyses Emma's rediscovery of her own nature. Starting from the sophisticated lunch cooked by Antonio she begins a journey of regaining her core identity. Signs follow her everywhere: we are witnessing Emma having dreams of Russia, noticing an Orthodox church in Nizza, looking through an album of Russian avant guard art in a book store... As if her inner voice was calling to her once again. She finally feels whole, authentic and real. Her total liberation is complete by setting free her female ego when she finally consummates her love with Antonio.
And so, all Emma’s identities (wife, mother, daughter-in-law, respectable matron, fashion icon etc.) are revealed, eliminated, thrown away at the very moment these two people come together. Once seen, it is hard to get rid of the taste of the truth, it is impossible to give up the privilege of being her authentic self. Antonio cuts off her hair, so actually and unconsciously the birth of her new self, her new personality is marked. Unfortunately, such a dramatic change is noticed, and again Emma has the highest price to pay and loses everything that she had sacrificed so much for.
The film makes it perfectly clear that total assimilation in the first generation is not only doomed to fail. Moreover, it cannot be right path as it annihilates one's personality. To force someone down this road means treating him with utmost cruelty. Of course, celebrating her/his cultural identity to a certain extent, does not and should not mean that a new citizen cannot accept and respect the rules of the host society, and as a result to be loyal to it. But as Emma's case shows: Immigrants may only find themselves ready to be transformed by a society if the society does not remain indifferent towards their heritage.