For the past two years, Luca Guadagnino has hosted the coming-of-age drama We Are Who We Are for HBO; a Sufjan Stevens music video; the lockdown short filmed on a smartphone Fiori, Fiori, Fiori; a commercial for the luxury shoe house Ferragamo; and a documentary feature, Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams. By the time the Italian’s cannibalistic romantic film, Bones and All, premiered at the Venice Film Festival, he had already finished work on Challengers, a tennis rom-com starring Zendaya and Josh O’Connor scheduled for an August release. from 2023. Next up is Audrey Hepburn biopic starring Rooney Mara.
And then there’s his day job. In 2017, she founded Studio Luca Guadagnino, the interior architecture studio.
When exactly do you sleep?
“I sleep five hours a night, but I should go at seven,” he smiles. “I am a workaholic person. I should change my attitude to get some rest. Honestly, it’s really hard for me to get laid because the people I work with are an amazing team. They know I work a lot and that’s why they keep making me work because they also work”.
As a child in Palermo, he asked his mother to buy him a Super 8 camera so he could submerge a piece of beef in a glass of water and film its decomposition. The shoot was abandoned due to the disgusting smell.
You are not exaggerating. Guadagnino is all about the collective experience. Recently, he “married” his two professions by recruiting Stefano Baisi, a fellow architect, as a production designer. The director has repeatedly worked with actors Walter Fasano, Marco Morabito, Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson. Cinematographers Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and Yorick Le Saux have shot three films for the filmmaker; Bones and All brings back Guadagnino veterans Michael Stuhlbarg, Jessica Harper and Chloë Sevigny.
He dreamily recalls a backstage tour of an opera house in Buenos Aires, an experience he compares to The Red Shoes, one of his favorite movies.
“Every time I go to the theater, particularly when I visit backstage, when the theater director is kind enough to show me backstage, I have a very beautiful moment,” says Guadagnino. “Because I love that sense of community and craft and everyone working together at the same time, towards the same goal. So I love the idea of building a community of artists working together in this theatrical sense.”
Bones and All also reunites the director with Timothée Chalamet, an actor who was catapulted to fame after his 2017 performance in Guadagnino’s heated love story Call Me By Your Name. The 26-year-old actor has since been nominated for two Academy Awards and has attracted an army of Chalamaniacs. Thousands of them camped out on the Lido before the premiere of Bones and All.
“Each actor acts with the baggage of his life experience and his understanding of human nature,” says the filmmaker. “The more they grow, the more they grow and the more they hone his talent, which was already immense in the case of Timothée Chalamet. I can tell you that from when he was a boy to a young man, he is able to bring more and more consideration to the way he is able to understand human nature.”
Bones and All is adapted from a YA novel by Camille DeAngelis. The film opens in the 1980s with edgy, old-fashioned teen Maren (Waves’ Taylor Russell) sneaking off to a slumber party, unbeknownst to her jealously overprotective father. One shocking scene later and her father’s concerns are fully justified: Maren has a craving for human flesh, an appetite that sees her embark on a road trip in search of her long-lost mother. .
Along the way, she meets fellow cannibal Sully (Mark Rylance channeling Night of the Hunter to terrifying effect) and falls for Lee (Chalamet). She is puppy love but with blood and crackling. At least one sponsor of the Venice premiere required medical attention. It is a long-cherished goal for the director, who remade Suspiria by Dario Argento in 2017 and who, as a child in Palermo, asked his mother to buy him a Super 8 camera so he could dip a piece of beef into a glass of water and film its decomposition over time. The shoot was abandoned due to the disgusting smell.
“I heard about people passing out and some people also throwing up, some screaming,” Guadagnino says. “Of course, in a way, I’m delighted because if a movie, if any movie moved someone to that degree, then the movie has something to say, in a way, or has struck a chord. But at the same time, I hope the element comes from the discomfort of dealing with the depth these characters go through and not the shock value.”
“I couldn’t relate to them and understand them regarding cannibalism. The goal is to find a way to use the literal for a metaphor.
Here’s a puzzling phrase: cannibalism is having a moment. Last July, Soylent Green began trending on social media platforms after the New York Times published an article titled Taste Cannibalism?, citing such popular works as Raw, Fresh, Santa Clarita Diet, and Yellowjackets. Guadagnino, fortunately, was more interested in the metaphorical aspects of the taboo eating plan.
“I was more interested in the actual inevitability of his nature than in actual nature,” Guadagnino says. “He was interested in something they can’t control and won’t control. When I start with the script, I said to myself, I think you can tell the story of these characters because I understand their sense of loneliness. I couldn’t relate to them and understand them regarding cannibalism. The goal is to find a way to use the literal as a metaphor, but without ruining the film, with the theme and the metaphorical aspects, so that it becomes too intellectual.
Bones and All is the filmmaker’s first project set and shot in the United States. It falls into the more American genre, the road movie, with locations in Chillicothe, Ohio, and Cincinnati. In preparation, he studied photographer William Eggleston’s portraits of the Deep South from the 1960s.
“Eggleston was my guide,” he says. “He was a great American artist and he was instrumental to me on my DP. [director of photography] and for my production designer. The beautiful personal subjectivity that he brings to the way of seeing America, from a perspective that was not the main one. I love movie codes. And the road movie is somehow like the DNA of what cinema means in the United States. Even westerns are road movies, right?
“I try to make the film in sequence. We are positioned at the center of the tri-state in Cincinnati. And then from then on, I moved from Ohio to Kentucky. Indiana, Maryland, to Nebraska and finding places that were perfect for period and wearing them.”
At first glance, the recent work of Bones and All and Guadignino feels more youthful than the adult drama of A Bigger Splash. But even his adult movies are dominated by something like puppy love. The romance between Russell and Chalamet’s characters is no less feverish than watching Tilda Swinton fixate herself on screen, against all better judgement, to be with her youngest lover in I Am Love.
“Before doing this, I broke up with my partner of 11 years and was devastated,” says Guadagnino. “Someone said, I understand you. I understand your movies. You are such a romantic person. But the interesting thing is that being a romantic person is not a positive value per se. It can be a curse.
‘Cinema knows no geography, it knows no borders. Look at Billy Wilder, one of the greatest directors in Hollywood. What was his sensitivity? German? European? American?’
Guadagnino was born in 1971 to a Sicilian father and an Algerian mother. He spent his early childhood in Ethiopia, where his father taught Italian literature classes. The family returned to Palermo after the outbreak of the civil war.
“I like to think that I am a citizen of the world, as Truman Capote said,” says the filmmaker. “Cinema knows no geography, it knows no borders. Look at Billy Wilder, one of the greatest directors in Hollywood. What was his sensitivity? German? European? American? The cinema that I love is transactional, without nationality”.
The director’s first feature, The Protagonists, established an ongoing collaboration with Tilda Swinton and premiered at Venice, the same festival where he recently won the Silver Lion for Bones and All. It’s still a learning curve, he says, but it’s easier than it was in the early days of his career.
“I think my first film was difficult, for sure,” he recalls. “I learned that it wasn’t important to know exactly what you wanted because then you couldn’t accept what others put on the table. And my second film, Melissa P, was made with a studio, a local Sony production in Europe. And I had the bitter lesson of having the film taken from me. I have learned to avoid that. I do not allow anyone else to take control of my projects.”
Bones and All opens on Wednesday, November 23