The Director To Know: Mr Luca Guadagnino
Messrs Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name. Photograph by Sony Pictures
Mr Luca Guadagnino is currently spending more time in airports than he would like. “I feel like Tom Hanks in The Terminal right now,” he sighs, massaging his forehead and reclining on a sofa in a private room at London’s Claridge’s hotel. The Italian director is here to promote his new film Call Me By Your Name, a carnal tale of ripening adolescent desire and self-discovery set against the delicious backdrop of Crema in Lombardy, the place Mr Guadagnino calls home when he’s not flying around the globe to promote it.
Based on the acclaimed coming-of-age novel of the same name by the American writer Mr André Aciman, the film focuses on Elio (Mr Timothée Chalamet), a stripling, precocious 17-year-old who spends the summer transposing Bach on the piano, lounging in the garden of his family’s 17th century holiday villa in Northern Italy, and pursuing the affections of Marzia (Ms Esther Garrel), the girl next door. Elio’s world is thrown into disarray when Oliver (Mr Armie Hammer), a handsome American PhD student arrives at his family home. There to assist Elio’s professor father (Mr Michael Stuhlbarg) in his archaeology research for the summer, Oliver stirs something in Elio (and Elio in Oliver), and a sun-soaked few weeks of sexual tension ensues.
“The whole movie is a dance of working through shyness,” says Mr Guadagnino, who on one level sees Call Me By Your Name as a completion of a trilogy on desire, beginning with his 2009 film I Am Love and continuing with 2015’s A Bigger Splash. While the films stand on their own as individual works, Mr Guadagnino appreciates the connections they have to one another – “not something conscious, just something I thought about after I made the movies.” I Am Love, he says is about “desire as a destructive, liberating force” while A Bigger Splash is about “nostalgic, oppressive” desire. “Call Me By Your Name,” he continues, “is about desire as a force of self-discovery”.
Mr Luca Guadagnino on the set of Call Me By Your Name. Photograph by Sony Pictures
It’s an intimate film, sometimes startlingly so. In the course of the slow-burning narrative, the central relationship develops with an undulating tension, erupting in some surprising sexually charged episodes. (One in particular is eye-opening – we won’t spoil it here. Let it suffice to say it involves a peach.) Crucial to this sense of intimacy that you see on-screen is, says Mr Guadagnino, his own relationship with the actors. “It’s the camaraderie that happens when you do a movie, it’s silly,” he smiles. “You have to share communion, and you have to help one another. You have to be an organism that works all together. Otherwise, if there is anarchy and there is no camaraderie, the boat sinks.” It’s something that he worked particularly hard on with Mr Hammer, whom he says “is made from the cloth of cinema. He’s someone with a lot of internal turmoils that I love to dig out.”
If any personal nostalgia is present in the film, it comes through in the soundtrack, which is heavily influenced by Mr Guadagnino’s personal music taste. He cites the inclusion of Italian singer Mr Franco Battiato as particularly important – a moment in which he himself slips into the movie. “We used [Battiato’s] ‘Radio Varsavia’ in the peach scene. I love that song. That’s me. The Psychedelic Furs, too, that’s me.” To sit alongside these poignant musical references, Mr Guadagnino also commissioned Mr Sufjan Stevens to contribute to the soundtrack – resulting in a haunting melody that frames the heartbreak of the film’s final drawn out scene. “I love him,” says Mr Guadagnino. “I think he gave the movie a beautiful, insightful gravitas. It’s graceful.”
Of course as well as being a wistful tale of impossible love, the film is about a gay romance. Writing in The Guardian, the critic Mr Jordan Hoffman called the film “a major entry in the canon of queer cinema”. But while Mr Guadagnino is flattered by this (“of course I am proud to be in ‘the canon of the great queer cinema’”), he’s ambivalent about the idea of genre itself. “It’s unexciting to think of people by their gender or sexuality,” says Mr Guadagnino. “For me, queer cinema is any movie that has a sort of left of the centre perspective for things. Vai E Vem by João César Monteiro, for example, or even The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock, those are queer cinema. Not because the topic is about the LGBTQ identity, but because their perspective is deranged from the normality of things, or what is supposed to be the normality of things.”
What is normal for Mr Guadagnino? After all, he tends to deal in somewhat heightened versions of the real world – in I Am Love, for instance, clothes were supplied by Fendi and Jil Sander, which was helmed at the time by Mr Raf Simons, while the food was created by Michelin-starred chef Mr Carlo Cracco. A Bigger Splash, set on an idyllic Sicilian island, also employed the services of Mr Raf Simons, at that point the creative director of Christian Dior. But in Call Me By Your Name, there are also snippets of mundane life that help to bring the story home. In one scene, as Elio and Oliver take a break from a bike ride through the countryside they stop at a cobbled monastery to ask an old woman for a glass of water. Such moments don’t serve the narrative in an obvious way, but Mr Guadagnino stresses their importance as a part of creating what he calls an “edited reality”. “It’s a growing moment,” he explains. “You’re growing with the two of them and they are growing into knowledge of one another; they’re growing close to one another.”
Mr Guadagnino thinks about it for a moment, and as if it were the most obvious thing in the world to him, says “We had to let the screen breathe.”
Call Me By Your Name will be in UK cinemas from 27 October