It's been 16 months since the film world first laid eyes on Luca Guadagnino's "I Am Love," which premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The Italian-language film has since become a significant critical and financial success story in the United States. It's now heading into one of the biggest non-Oscar award weekends of the year, with foreign language film nominations at both the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes.
"I don't take it for granted," said Guadagnino. "When the film first screened in Venice, it did so with a certain skepticism from the Italian press. So we were kind of ready to say 'we're proud of our little film, but it didn't go well.' And then these reviews from the trades and they were fantastic. I remembered this little tale of the first film of Peter Bogdanovich, who basically said the Variety review of his 'Targets' came out it was this great review that changed the life of the movie, and his life. And I felt a little bit like I was in his shoes at the time. But even then I had no expectation to see the film be sold everywhere in Toronto, or to see this amazingly warm embrace from the press in America. So it's fantastic."
"Love" stars Guadagnino's longtime friend Tilda Swinton (who also produced) as a Russian émigré who married into the family and feels repression in her post-empty nest existence. After her father-in-law passes on the lucrative family business to her husband and, unexpectedly, her son, the entire family begins to unthread quite spectacularly. Guadagnino and Swinton - who collaborated previously on 1999's "The Protagonists" - obviously have facilitated a powerful working relationship beyond their lengthy friendship. Richly detailed and gorgeously shot, "I Am Love" handles itself with remarkable precision, bringing forth a portrait of upper-class mores very much anchored by Swinton's masterful handling of a very complex role. Whether or not the film ends up winning this weekend, it confirms Guadagnino as an international filmmaker to pay attention to. And even receiving these nominations has greatly exceeded anything Guadagnino saw coming.
"I always believed in the power of cinema," Guadagnino said. "I am a cinephile, I am a movie buff and I am one of those people who lives in cinema ever since I was a kid. So I basically have been educated by the cinema with the knowledge that cinema can give you amazing surprises and even change your life. But I never dared to think that my personal work would get such recognition. Not because I am downsizing myself, but because I am too connected to it. It's very difficult for a director to objectify his or her work. And I'm not someone that's capable of doing that. Of course you want to be recognized, that's part of the human condition I would say."
One place the film was not recognized was by the Italians themselves when they chose to submit Paolo Virzi’s “The First Beautiful Thing" over "Love" to the Academy's foreign language category. Considering that country's current downsizing of cultural funding, including cinema, that makes outside recognition even more important.
"I wish the Italian movie that they picked gets selected by the Academy because this would mean a good thing for the industry in Italy," he said. "Having said that, I have no embarrassment in saying that 'I Am Love' was probably a good bet for Italy. They didn't pick the movie because I think they felt the choice for the Italian film was itself an award. So they decided to give this award to the movie they loved the most, and to the movie that was most recognized by the industry, the critics and the audience in Italy. But in reality, they maybe should have thought 'what is the movie that would have the best chances at the Oscars.'"
Still, Guadagnino is clearly grateful for everything that has come the way of "I Am Love."
"First of all, I have to give great praise to the great work of Magnolia, my distributor in America," he said. "They did a great job, and I'm not saying this because I want to say something nice about them. They really did a terrific job. And second, I think that what the film's success really says that American audiences are really, really connected with the language of cinema. We wanted a very powerful use of cinema in the movie. That's what we wanted to do. And somehow, this goal and these risks that we took were embraced by American audiences. That says to me about how a place like America - where studio movies, tentpoles, remakes, comic book films are the average diet of an audience member - still has audience that looks for a cinematic language that doesn't look formulaic and is not predictable for them."
More from the interview here.