There are many ways to chart an illicit romance: steamy videos, secret charge-card statements, spicy text messages. Take your pick.

Sicilian director Luca Guadagnino chooses a tastier method in "I Am Love."

At first glance, this gorgeous dynastic drama starring 49-year-old Tilda Swinton comes down to a plate full of prawns.

A rich, repressed Milanese wife (Swinton) sits down in a swank bistro.

There, amidst the nattering ladies who lunch at her table, this cool bourgeois beauty savours the morsels prepared by her son's friend, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini).

She closes her eyes. She lets the explosion of flavours seduce her. And bam! It's love at first bite, with the dish and the dishy chef.

Swinton's surrender to this moment and the affair it inspires is amazing, as are the epic meals Guadagnino links to every major turning point.

But there's much more to this ravishing treat that starts off slow and builds to a wild, triumphant epiphany about love, lust and lost identity.

Swinton's the star ingredient in this juicy drama

Not unlike "The Godfather," this nuanced bonbon begins with a lavish celebration that shorthands the stature of the film's nouveau-riche textile barons.

A birthday dinner for the clan's ailing patriarch (Gabriele Ferzetti) reunites the family on a snowy Christmas Eve.

Elegant Emma Recchi (Swinton) hosts the affair in her husband's sprawling mansion.

The conversation is lively. Candlelight glimmers everywhere. But something dangerous stirs the air.

"I do not want to die," the old man says with disdain for the sharks in the room.

He announces that his son, Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), will inherit the company.

He also springs a wicked surprise: Tancredi's son, Edoardo Jr. (Flavio Parenti), will co-run the Recchi empire.

The news leaves Tancredi writhing with humiliation. Nevertheless, these money-made weasels toast this new power-shift that spans generations.

Their good wishes slip over Emma's expressionless face like a new shroud.

Dynasties die, passion lives in ‘I Am Love'

Audiences used to Swinton's chilly androgyny in films like "Constantine," "Orlando," and "The Chronicles of Narnia" are in for a shocker.

Swinton's Emma walks through sunny Milan drenched in mouthwatering coloured dresses. Her golden hair and milky skin quiver with femininity and scream of money.

Despite these blessings, Emma is headed for a meltdown. Swinton makes this blow-up something to behold.

Once this Russian-born sphinx marries a Recchi, she plays the part of the rich man's wife to perfection.

The performance costs Emma her identity and happiness.

Now she fears that her son's fate will be the same working with his distant father.

Luckily for Emma, Antonio saves her from a passionless existence.

From the moment this sensuous young chef hands Emma a cooking torch and helps her caramelize hors d'oeuvres for a party, Ms. Recchi comes to life.

Finally, the blood courses through the veins of this mansion-bound mannequin.

Emma can breathe again. She can be herself again. She won't give that up even when tragedy spins this tale of dynastic succession towards its stormy end.

The film's gorgeous cinematography, score and masterful layering of guilt, grief, betrayal and sex will make you beg for seconds.

But Swinton is this film's real triumph. Her Emma will never forget who she is again. Nor will we.

Four stars out of four.