For his new film bones and allDirector Luca Guadagnino beautifully combines many of the exceptional qualities of his previous two projects, creating the intriguing double whammy of call me by your name and its remake by Dario Argentos suspiracy. He harks back to the 1980s setting and budding romance of the former while tapping into the latter’s deeper themes and genre conventions. The result is a casual yet unforgettably stylish portrait of a young woman (Taylor Russell) at odds with the world over her appetite for human flesh, at least until she meets a young man (Timothée Chalamet) who shares her preferences. Set against the backdrop of the American Midwest, the two seek refuge from a (perhaps rightfully) suspicious population that doesn’t want to be eaten, while finding much-needed solace in one another.
Guadagnino spoke to him recently The AV Club on his new film, which garnered critical acclaim at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year and is turning heads in Hollywood with awards season. He also spoke about the films and filmmakers that inspired the look bones and allexplained how he elicits great performances from his actors and reflected on how he captures the complex emotions of young people.
The AV Club: What was it like doing a genre film suspiracy allow you to explore themes or ideas that you were unable to implement in storytelling outside of the genre?
Luca Guadagnino: To be honest, I don’t think so. And with every film I make, I assume that I’m always going to make my first film. Of course I have experience and I know how to approach things in a way that maybe I didn’t know before. But at the same time really every film is a new chapter and it’s a new adventure and it’s almost a first film for me. So I know I like making challenging films where you can feel invested in an intense experience, an immersive experience. I don’t divide my work into genre filmmaking and non-genre filmmaking. I don’t think of bones and all as a genre film. I think it’s a romantic film – it’s a romance. It’s a dark fable – a fable about transcending your limitations and your nature and finding love.
AVC: I happened to be watching Almost darkand I thought about it a lot while I watched bones and all. Which films or pieces of 80s iconography did you draw inspiration from while filming?
LG: Actually with [cinematographer] Arseni Khachaturan, we saw a lot of movies from the 70’s. We saw a lot of work by Vilmos Zsigmond and Néstor Almendros. These people were of the utmost importance. But also William Eggleston – I personally have one particular film that I’ve been thinking a lot about, namely They live at night, the Nicholas Ray film. Those were our most important values, our references.
AVC: Similar to call me by your name, bones and all takes place almost simultaneously in the 80s. Was there anything about that time that facilitated a certain kind of creativity for you or softened contemporary limitations?
LG: I love the 80’s of my memory because that’s when I emerged as a person. And I can find some kind of solace in that process. I love the idea of an experiment. So it’s interesting for me to understand how to put together a vision of the Midwest in the 80’s. It’s a bigger challenge for me than imagining the 80’s in the Midwest right now. In a way, it’s a complicated task, but it’s something I kind of enjoy.
AVC: You seem to love lingering on your characters’ faces – obviously the last shot of call me by your name, but there’s also a shot of Taylor in that film that felt very similar. In those moments, how much do you feel like you’re pushing the actor to see what he’s delivering and how much do you let him guide you to see what he’s delivering?
LG: I think it’s my duty to give the actors all the power they have to perform and to make sure that they don’t hold back but actually go completely naked and give it their all. And then I see what they’re doing and I record it.
AVC: Your last two movies were shot on film. Was that also shot on film?
LG: Yes / Yes. 35. And also [my next film] challenger is in 35mm.
AVC: How important is shooting on 35mm as an aesthetic quality? And how does that change your process, if at all?
LG: My process has been like this since I was a kid. I was shooting on film with my Super 8 cameras when I was eight or nine. I went up to 16 when I was in my early 20s and then suddenly went to 35 very quickly. So it hasn’t changed anything. Actually, I got used to it and I love it.
AVC: For the shoots that take a lot of time, maybe to highlight the performances of these actors, is that something you burn into the way you shoot things?
LG: Because my employees know that I work fast and want to be fast, we don’t waste any time when it comes to film. Sometimes video takes longer because you have all the digital intermediates [considerations].
AVC: While the focus of this film is obviously the relationship between Taylor and Timothy’s characters, your relationship with Mark’s character feels similarly youthful in that his feelings are just as strong, but perhaps even less mature than hers. How difficult was it to strike the right balance for this character, that his efforts to ingratiate himself felt somehow threatening, or that his yearning for camaraderie infused into the dynamic that brings these other two together?
LG: You said it so well, Todd – you said it all. Basically, Sully’s interest in Maren is like a teenager in love. It’s just that he doesn’t understand that she doesn’t reciprocate, and he can’t see that she isn’t there for him as much as he wanted her to be there for him. And that’s the crushing disappointment he’s going through that leads to the destructive power he’s unleashing there. And we wanted the film to be seen from his perspective as well as Lee and Maren’s perspective. But me and Mark Rylance wanted to make sure he came across as human as possible as someone who has a sense of despair about what he wants but can’t achieve.
AVC: When you look at his casting and also Michael Stuhlbarg’s, it’s amazing to think of him call me by your name and how different he is in this film. When you cast these actors who are so successful at morphing, do you challenge them to push them out of their comfort zone?
LG: They like it! I don’t have to push anyone. It is fun. You know we’re going to places that are kind of extreme. But they are actors and actors play. And playing means enjoying what you do. So I’m lucky because I’ve worked with some of the biggest and they’ve always been very, very committed to the process.
AVC: There are some comparisons between this film and dusk, may be mocking. But I think it also speaks to the attitudes of many older people about the all-consuming nature of young love. They have told love stories from many different perspectives. How difficult is it to do this with empathy and without the perspective of adult experience or hindsight?
LG: I mean, people who know me tell me I’m very romantic (laughs). I am. I have this attitude towards life. But I do not know. I like looking at things and people. I’m open.