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Tilda Swinton Gets a Haircut: I Am Love

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Introducing her new movie, I am Love, to an audience of fashion and food people last February, Tilda Swinton in a razored asymmetrical blond hair do-we are used to seeing a redhead-said she would be on hand to help if we got impossibly hungry which is what happened with audiences at film festivals in Toronto and Sundance after seeing this stylish movie shot in Italy. She plays Emma Recchi, a wife and mother in a Milan mansion, an emotional ice palace. But soon we are seduced in nature, hidden caves and water racing over rocks, with glimpses of her naked-and having sex with her younger lover Antonio, a cook, who in one elegantly shot scene shears off the baggage of her neatly coiffed look. Forget food! Bring on Italian men. No wonder a critic called this film "a guilty pleasure."

Awakening hungers of all sorts, I am Love premiered last Wednesday with an after party at Barbounia Restaurant hosted by Acqua di Parma and Tuttobello. Another audience of fashion and food people including Cynthia Rowley, Drew Nieporent, filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Sara Driver, actors Martha Plimpton and Amy Landecker joined director Luca Guadagnino, composer John Adams, and cast members: Tilda Swinton, Marisa Berenson, Pippo Delbono for a lavish Italian buffet.

Director Luca Guadagnino explained his commitment to food in an interview in February:

I wanted to be a chef. I chose film. Food can be a great dialogue between people. Food can nurture and also give a great cultural experience. New tastes and textures can change you. Antonio transforms Emma. He takes the integrity of the ingredients and turns it into a work of art. As a director I am like an orchestra conductor, a chef, I meld elements to make an image and sound, influenced by art and life.

Italian, raised in Ethiopia by his Algerian mother, Guadagnino has a keen sense of otherness, a profound intellectual subtext to this movie, that explains his characterizations, filmic conception, and casting.

We are all others, and scared of "othermess." I shot a portrait of Tilda and she talked about love, the otherness of love. I wanted to make this into a narrative and started to think about a woman in a big house.

Having built the family, I wanted to link to cinema of the past-like Antonioni. One day Tilda called me from Paris. She had been to Christian Dior haute couture, and stopped to see Marisa Berenson. Oh, I am a huge fan. We agreed she would be a perfect Rori. Marisa is the niece of Ilsa Schiapparelli. Bernard Berenson, great historian of the arts. She speaks Italian, English, and French.

And then I met this amazing, stunning woman, and had to say, we would like to offer you the role of Tilda's mother-in-law, a mother--and grandmother! We did wigs and makeup to age her. I love the way she is in the movie.

Yes, but Rori is an older woman who remains in this house, the same house that Emma must escape. This woman, Emma, is liberated but must lose her son, an unthinkable tragedy for a mother? Emotionally, the circumstance is unbearable-and operatic. Was that an aesthetic choice?

I believe in Freud. Emma loses her son because of the incapacity of the son to confront the reality of the mother's otherness. He doesn't understand that mother is not an empty box that you fill with the concept of motherhood. She has needs, sex, a body, and an emotional deep psychological life that goes beyond the role she has to play. As Freud would say, what happens to him is not an accident. He couldn't face the reality of his mother. Women are objects of the patriarchal system: Asexualization of women on the one hand and desexualization of women. She wants neither. She is a person, a female person. She has to face a devastating loss that will stay forever within her self and never be healed. To live within the confines of the house would be a contradiction. This character and choices she made force her to leave the house forever and to be private and intimate with the loss, but not conflicted with the love she feels for the other man.

Now, months later, Luca introduces me to Tilda, and yes, her hair is different, shorter and still blond. Aware that famously she is in an "open marriage," often traveling with a younger artist, I would meet her the next day for an interview. Laughing, she says she has only 3 answers: yes, no, and all the time.

How much of Emma's spirit matches your own?

The sense of being quiet in situations where other people are not quiet, the habit of relying on inner life when other people are babbling. I have never found myself in any of her circumstances. For the record, I have never in my life rolled around in a garden with an Italian man.

Emma goes from being extremely well put together, to wearing a zip up track suit and rushing out the door.

Her changed looks are emblematic of her freedom. My friends think Emma starts off as a caked doll but as the story progresses she gets cleaner and freer. It is about being a regular human being. If I have been in films at all it is to be regular, to have a normal human face. And I like flexibility; idea of transformation is so practical. Every time a woman puts on lipstick to go to dinner with her husband she calls on her ability to transform. Cinema is a window of transformation.

And yet in our world, it seems, everyone wants to look the same-young.

I was brought up entirely in love with my 97 year old grandmother-it never occurred to me that life would not keep on getting better. The idea of being in resistance to age is such a waste.

Fashion is so much a part of the film, used to decode everyday life, identity. The corporate men wear Fendi, and you Jil Sander.

Raf Simons designs for Jil Sander. He understands perfectly the classical references and yet is a modernist, playful and expressive in color. Emma is very interior. I remember saying to Luca years ago, I want this film portrait to show you more about this woman in the way she wraps a ribbon from an unwrapped present around her hair than any long speech about what she does and does not feel. When she's falling in love, she wears scarlet. When she goes to San Remo to embark on this sun filled love, she wears tangerine orange.

What do you imagine happens to Emma after she leaves?

Maybe she just evaporates, disappears. It is a fairy story. Her husband says she doesn't exist. How does she go on breathing after what happens at the pool? When terrifying things happen to people, they say this is not happening to me. Imagining it is real; trying to grasp that something is real, is close to performance.

On first viewing, I thought she would return to Antonio.

We don't know. We make the suggestion that they are in the cave together.

You mean like Tristan and Isolde?

That could have been our soundtrack if John Adams had not offered his music.

You have two films releasing this summer, this one and Sally Potter's Orlando, based on Virginia Woolf. Is that a coincidence?

It is amazing that two very precious films that I developed alongside the filmmakers for years, family projects, films made with paper and string-will come out this summer.

Tell me about the fragrance you are launching this afternoon at Bendel's.

A great perfume house on rue des Archives in Paris said, we want you to develop a perfume. I was challenged with what I could put in a bottle that would make me feel at home: ginger, vetiver, and the smell of my grandfather's greenhouse.

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