Luca Guadagnino, the award-winning Italian director, screenwriter, producer and artist, first arrived on the international scene in 2010 with his critically-acclaimed film, I Am Love, starring frequent collaborator Tilda Swinton, which garnered Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. He followed that up with another art house hit, 2015’s
A Bigger Splash starring Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Now he’s back with a new, much buzzed-about film, Call Me by Your Name, a sensual and transcendent tale of first love, based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman. Set in the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, it tells the story of Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17-year-old American-Italian, who spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), in a setting that’s both sophisticated and charmingly shabby-chic. While Elio’s musical and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart.
All that begins to change when one day Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.
Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Guadagnino talks about making the film and his love of post.
What was the appeal of making this?
“I really loved the book and I wanted to make an idyll, a movie about love, and an unbiased and un-cynical and warm and sweet and heartfelt film about the capacity we have for loving someone. And how the bonds you make in your life make you a better person, and how you change when you love someone openly and positively. I wanted it to feel like warm sunshine flooding the room.”
I heard that you consider Call Me by Your Name to be the last part of a trilogy of films that began with I Am Love, and then continued with A Bigger Splash?
“Yes, but it actually occurred to me that they formed this trilogy after I’d made this one. I realized that what links these three films is the concept of desire and the revelation of desire — either a burst of desire for someone else or what happens when you discover you are the object of somebody else’s desire. But while in the first two films that desire is more of a destructive force, this one is about desire at its most benign, open aspect. So Elio realizes there is this force, this desire that he really doesn’t know how to handle but he wants to follow it and see where it leads.”
Obviously the relationship between Elio and Oliver makes a strong case for a gay relationship, but it seems to me that the film is actually more about first love than a gay love.
“I completely agree with you. It’s really about first love — no matter who the person is, or what their sex. It could have been about Elio and his girlfriend Marzia, but for whatever reason the chemistry between them didn’t catch fire, and then Elio sees Oliver, and the sparks begin to fly. (Laughs) Love and desire are mysterious things.”
You assembled a great cast. What did Timothée Chalamet bring to his role?
“It was very important to me that he could really play piano and guitar, as he’s this musical virtuoso in the film, and he could already play very well. And he’s a very dedicated, hard-working actor, who just goes for it. He has a way of approaching a character and articulating it that’s never banal. He’s completely invested in his role and the film, and he came over to Italy a month or two before the shoot, and he learned Italian and also took piano and guitar lessons every day, until he’d completely mastered the instruments. He just became Elio, and you see that on screen.”
“I think Armie is such a complex creature and a wonderful person. He has this beautiful presence, and his eyes communicate so much — a deep sense of internal turmoil. And for a director, that’s a deep well you can draw on so much, as the camera loves him so much and detects so much in his eyes. He’s also a very generous actor, and not self-guarded like some. He’s always very open.”
You worked from a script written by the great James Ivory. How involved was he in the production?
“Not that much. We basically wrote the final script together and we went from a different angle from the book, and made some changes. But we kept the essence of it.”
One big difference was that you changed the setting from the Italian Riviera to the small Lombardy town of Crema, near where you live. Was that a matter of convenience?
“No, it wasn’t that. We changed it because I really like all the countryside around Crema, and I felt it was the perfect setting for giving the sense of a summer that never ends.”
Sometimes it turns out that the films that look the most beautiful and relaxed on screen were nightmares to shoot. But this looks like it really was a wonderful shoot?
“It was. It was just 30 days and I wish it had gone longer, it was so lovely. We began shooting in mid-May and all the actors lived in Crema and we shot there and all around that area, and everyone was so relaxed.”
The film is very beautiful visually. Can you talk about your approach to shooting it?
“My director of photography, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, and I shot it on film, and he’s a sculptor of light and a master of his craft. I always like to shoot on film except on commercials where I always shoot digitally. And we shot it all with just one camera and one 35mm lens. People say, ‘Why?’ when I tell them, but I wanted it to be very simple and I also like limits when I’m working. I wanted to let the characters breathe and to focus on them and the story, and not have all the usual camera equipment get in the way of that. I’m in complete command of my work and never let anyone tell me how to shoot or what to do. And a director can find himself in situations where you’re told you have to use three cameras. But I won’t allow that.”
Do you like the post process?
“I love it, I love shooting, but I think post is my favorite part, when you just sit down with your editor and start making the film. And I love working with music and sound and feeling it all come to life.”
Where did you edit?
“We did all the cutting at my house in Crema, and I’ve been working with my editor Walter Fasano for over 20 years now. He cut my very first film, The Protagonists back in 1996. He wasn’t on the set but he was in Crema while we were shooting and then every now and then we’d meet and talk about it.”
What were the main editing challenges?
“Some movies are hard to edit for whatever reason, but this just flowed like the water in the spring in the film. It’s a very flowing movie and we had the final picture locked just one month after we stopped shooting. On A Bigger Splash, it took almost a full year to edit and post it.”
Where did you do the rest of the post?
“We did all the sound in Paris, and we worked with this great sound designer and mixer Jean-Pierre LaForce. He’s worked with so many great directors, like Michael Heneke, Alain Resnais and Denis Villeneuve, and he’s also a master at what he does. And we had a few VFX shots — mainly removal and clean up, and we did that in Rome with Metaphyx who does beautiful work. [The studio] also created the whole final wintry landscape. And the DI was done at Augustus Color in Rome and I’m very involved in that process with my DP. As we shot in 35mm there wasn’t a lot to change, but we worked a lot on the balance and contrast”
Talk about the importance of sound and music to you as a filmmaker.
“It’s half the movie — and sometimes far more than that. We wanted the sound to be absolutely realistic and ripe with the sounds of the seasons — and invisible. We didn’t want it to intrude, and yet it had to be a very rich backdrop to the story. So all the tiny details were so important. When he rips open the peach, we had to get exactly the right sound in post, and we worked on sound for a few months. And I also worked with singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens who created a couple of songs especially for the film.”
Did it turn out the way you envisioned it?
“I don’t know. Maybe it didn’t turn out how I first pictured the script, but I’m very happy with the film. It’s a beautiful collaboration”
Do you ever make a film and think, ‘It’d be fun to do a sequel and revisit these characters in five, 10 years’?
“Yes, I love that idea and I love what directors like Michael Apted and Richard Linklater have done with their Up Next and Before Sunrise series. So, yes, I will definitely plan to return to these characters. I already have ideas, so maybe I’ll do it in three years, and I’d love to follow them for a long time.”
“I’ve been doing a remake of Dario Argento’s classic horror film, Ssuspiria, which stars Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson, and I’m in the middle of post on it right now, and we’re doing all the post in Rome with a team from all over the world. The release is planned for fall this year. And then I have a project with Jake Gyllenhaal and Benedict Cumberbatch which we’re going to shoot in Sri Lanka very soon. It’s a noir, and Sri Lanka may sound like it’s too sunny and bright for a noir, but it’s actually quite rainy and cloudy and monsoonal and humid, and I think it’s a great location for a noir.”