Some interesting moments are wasted here, in a movie that's marked by a striking mismatch of story and tone.
Tilda Swinton stars as Emma, a Russian woman who has married into a wealthy Italian family. She has all the trappings of a perfect life -- a devoted husband; three adult children, each one seemingly on the way to success in various endeavors; staff of loyal servants; a home appointed so lavishly that even the editors of Palatial Estates Monthly might be taken aback by the excess. But alas, Emma is not happy, and her mid-life crisis leads her into an affair with Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a dashing young chef who happens to be her son's best friend.
What is called for here is heat, passion, over-the-top melodrama -- think Douglas Sirk at his most overwrought -- and what we get is chilly detachment. Tilda Swinton, talented though she is, is not an actress who brings to mind life-altering lust and unbridled passion. And the John Adams score (not new music, but selected excerpts from his work) is entirely wrong; his chugging, blocky rhythms and jagged, spiky fragments of melody would feel more at home in one of Soderbergh's more intellectual experiments than they do in this would-be potboiler.
There are a few things that work. The most interesting relationship is built in the background, almost without being noticed; it's that of Emma and Ida (Maria Paiato), one of her household staff. They are not friends -- Ida understands the Italian class system too well for that, even in those moments when Emma seems not to -- but there is an affection and a respect between them. Their moments together have an understated dignity; their final moment together, a rather frantic scene in Emma's bedroom, is particularly well played.
Beyond that, the sets are gorgeous to look at, as is Flavio Parenti, who plays Emma's son Edoardo.