It also features a great performance by Tilda Swinton as a Russian-born lady, Emma Recchi, who married early into a wealthy Italian family. She has spent her entire adult life in a secure place in a fashionable center of high society among the elite of Milan. But her daughter coming out as a lesbian ignites a personal search for her own inner being.
Swinton is the center of the film and she turns in quite a performance as a woman who has so assimilated into the haute bourgeoisie of Milan that she quite literally has lost her younger identity. Maybe it didn't matter so much when her kids were growing up but now they are grown and mature. She doesn't even use her original name, and her Russian past has been all but erased from her new life as the wife of a boring, but headstrong businessman.
Swinton reportedly learned Russian and Italian for the film, which took eleven years for her and the director and co-writer of the film, Luca Guadagnino, to being to the screen.
The story starts out slowly and confidently, with the family patriarch announcing over dinner that he has decided to retire the running of his business to both his son AND his grandson, a King Lear-like move that is just the beginning of the undoing of many family ties.
The film's main focus centers in the main around the relationship between Swinton's character and her grown son's best friend, a chef who is a decidedly good cook because he can seduce women with just the way he can saute a sea food entree or caramelize a dessert. Eroticism plays a major part of a couple key scenes, but the film itself also plays up the sterility of an older capitalistic society that has lost its drive.
Emma (a tip to Flaubert's famous literary heroine?) becomes obsessed with the younger man, and perhaps just as obsessed with finding a way out of her stifling life in the gilded cage of northern Italian high society.
The film climaxes to a tragedy, something you can feel coming all along. It's worthy of something out of Tennessee Williams or the two classic "Godfather" films of the seventies. The music score by John Adams, featured on the trailer below, is also outstanding.
Tilda Swinton fans, of course, and those who like seeing unflicnching family drama--with just as much dramatic punch and suspense as there are romantic interludes, will enjoy this one.