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Interview with Luca Guadagnino, Director of “I Am Love”

Jordan Wright
June 2010

Tilda Swinton in I AM LOVE

Tilda Swinton in I AM LOVE - photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Italian film director, Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, “I Am Love” (“Io Sono L’Amore”), starring Tilda Swinton, is a social melodrama, written in the tradition of writers such as Henry James and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  An elegant cinematic foray into the private lives of the Italian aristocracy, it is both an exploration and exploitation of the triumphs and foibles of its characters and their enduring mystique.  Designed with voluptuous attention to culinary detail, the film uses the preparation of food and its cultural significance not only as a vehicle to define love, control and betrayal, but also as a means of self-expression, epiphany and passion.

Food from I AM LOVE - photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Food from I AM LOVE - photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Before the filming, a labor of love taking a decade to bring to the screen, Guadagnino tapped two-star Michelin chef, Carlo Cracco, to teach the actors how to cook.  Cracco, a progressive Italian chef whose Milan restaurant, Cracco-Peck, was selected for S. Pellegrino’s list of “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” in 2009, delved into the characters’ psyches to divine their individual aspirations and spirit, a practice he employs with all his customers.

“Cooking is, above all, communication, because it is where the magic of interchange may take place. It ties people together and unites them with this very fine and magical thread that is food,” Cracco elaborates.

The film, releasing this week, has already garnered recognition as the Official Selection of both the 2009 Venice Film Festival, the 2009 Toronto Film Festival and, more recently, the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

In a conversation with Guadagnino, we spoke of food and its role in the film and in his life.

Jordan Wright – What are your earliest remembrances of food?

Luca Guadagnino – I have two memories about food.  The first one is that of my father in the kitchen.  I learned a lot about male identity from seeing my father cook.  He’s 78 now and still cooks.  He is an amazing cook.  So good!  And whenever I’m in Rome I go to my parents’ home to enjoy his cooking.

Pea soup shooters on the set of I AM LOVE - photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Pea soup shooters on the set of I AM LOVE - photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

And then I remember when I was a kid I didn’t have cars to play with, I had little pans, and in Ethiopia, where I was raised, we had a garden.  One day I was picking peas and I brought them in the kitchen under the surveillance of my mother.  I asked her to put the peas on the fire because I wanted to cook.  Later when I returned to the kitchen nobody could find the pan and I never knew what happened to the peas.  This mystery of the disappearance of the peas is haunting me since.

JW – What do you miss or crave the most when you travel?

LG – First I miss my bed.  Well, basically my house is a plane…always!  But I miss tranquility and the routine.  I love routine, even food routine, like when you know what you want to eat, where you will purchase it and you know how to cook it.  The most enjoyable thing for me is to wake up, to do breakfast and then to go in the market to find the right groceries, the right vegetables, and cook.  When I’m home I shop every day or twice a day…once for lunch and again to prepare dinner.   But mostly, I miss my father’s food.

JW – What is your favorite dish?

LG – I like simple food.  I like a piece of fresh fish grilled with lemon.  And I like latte di mandorla.  You make a paste of the almonds and then dilute it with water.  It looks milky and it’s so sweet and refreshing.

Food from I AM LOVE - photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Food from I AM LOVE - photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

JW – I want to talk about Emma’s loving preparation of the very complex fish soup, “ukha”, from her native Russia and the erotic nature that food plays in your film.  What did the “uhka” mean to you?  Was it a dish you were familiar with?

LG – We did a lot of research and discovered that the Russian cuisine was very much influenced by the French haute cuisine of the 18th and 19th centuries. There are very few complicated and specific Russian dishes and this is one of them.  I love the idea of the transparency of the broth and Emma is transparent, translucent and intense…like that broth.

JW – What do you consider the most sensuous foods?

LG – Maybe I’m being very parochial.  But for me, prawns are, and also the silkiness of some vegetables.

JW – Why did you choose the great Italian chef, Carlo Cracco, to design and prepare the food for the film?  Were you familiar with his restaurant and cuisine before you brought him on?

LG – I am a gourmet, so if I have money I go often to eat in great restaurants wherever I am.  I knew Carlo and I had been to his restaurant five or six times before asking him to do the movie with me.  I really like his food.  There is a great sensuality about his cooking and he is one of the most interesting European chefs.

This interview was conducted, condensed and edited by Jordan Wright.  Or questions or comments contact [email protected] or visit

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