How Bones And All director Luca Guadagnino transitioned from Call Me By Your Name to cannibal love stories

(From left) Taylor Russell as Maren and Timothée Chalamet as Lee in Bones And All, directed by Luca Guadagnino
(From left) Taylor Russell as Maren and Timothée Chalamet as Lee in Bones And All, directed by Luca Guadagnino

For his new film Bones And All, director Luca Guadagnino beautifully combines many of the extraordinary qualities of his previous two projects, the mesmerizing one-two punch of Call Me By Your Name and his remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. He reaches back to the 1980s setting and fledgling romance of the former, while tapping into the deeper themes and genre conventions of the latter. The result is an unforced but unforgettably stylish portrait of a young woman (Taylor Russell) at odds with the world because of her appetite for human flesh, at least until she meets a young man (Timothée Chalamet) who shares her proclivities. Against the backdrop of the American Midwest, the two seek refuge from a (perhaps justifiably) mistrusting populace that does not want to be eaten, while finding sorely needed solace in one another.

Guadagnino recently spoke to The A.V. Club about his new film, which earned acclaim at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year and is building buzz as award season ramps up in Hollywood. He also talked about the films and filmmakers who inspired the look of Bones And All, explained how he coaxes great performances from his actors, and reflected on how he captures the complex emotions of young people.

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The A.V. Club: How did making a genre film like Suspiria allow you to explore themes or ideas that that you weren’t able to do in non-genre storytelling?

Luca Guadagnino: Honestly, that’s not the way I think. And every movie I make, I do it by the presumption that I am doing my first movie again and again. Of course, I have experience, and I know how to approach things in a way that I might have not known before. But at the same time, really every movie is a new chapter, and it’s a new adventure, and it’s almost a first-time movie for me. So I know that I like to make heightened films in which you can consider yourself invested in an intense experience, an immersive experience. I don’t divide my work into genre filmmaking, non-genre filmmaking. I don’t think of Bones And All as a genre movie. I think it’s a romantic film—it’s a romance. It’s a dark fable—it’s a fable about overcoming your limits and your nature, and finding love.

Director Luca Guadagnino on the set of Bones And All.
Director Luca Guadagnino on the set of Bones And All.

AVC: I just happened to watch Near Dark, and I thought a lot about it while I was watching Bones And All. What films or parts of ’80s iconography did you draw on for inspiration while you were making this?

LG: Actually, with [cinematographer] Arseni Khachaturan, we saw a lot of movies from the ’70s. We saw a lot of Vilmos Zsigmond’s work, and Néstor Almendros. Those people were paramount. But also William Eggleston—I personally have a specific movie that I was thinking about a lot, which is They Live By Night, the Nicholas Ray movie. Those were our paramounts, our references.

AVC: Similar to Call Me By Your Name, Bones And All is set in the ’80s, almost at the exact same time. Was there something about that period that facilitates a particular kind of creativity for you, or alleviates contemporary limitations?

LG: I love the ’80s of my memory, because it’s when I was coming up as a person. And I can find in it some sort of solace in the process. I love the idea of an experiment. So it’s interesting for me to understand how can I put together a vision of the Midwest in the ’80s? It’s more challenging for me than envisioning the ’80s in the Midwest now. In a way, it’s a complicated task, but it’s something that gives me some sort of enjoyment.

AVC: You seem to love to linger on your characters’ faces—obviously the final shot of Call Me By Your Name, but there’s also a shot of Taylor in this film that felt very similar. In those moments, how much do you feel like you’re leading the actor to see what they deliver, and how much are you letting them lead you to see what they deliver?

LG: I think my duty is to give the actors all the powers they have within for their performance, and to make sure that they are not holding back, but they are actually being completely naked and giving everything. And then I see what they do and record it.

AVC: Your last two films were shot on film. Was this shot on film as well?

LG: Yeah, yeah. 35. And also [my next film] Challengers 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 that since I was a kid. I was shooting on film when I was eight, nine with my Super 8 cameras. I stepped up to 16 when I was in my early twenties, and then suddenly very quickly went into 35. So it didn’t change anything. I actually am completely used to it, and I love it.

AVC: For the shots that take a long time, perhaps to draw out these actors’ performances, is that something you bake into how you’re shooting things?

LG: Because my collaborators know that I work fast and I want to be fast, we don’t lose time, even if it’s film. Sometimes, video takes you longer because you have all of the digital intermediate [considerations].

BONES AND ALL | Theatrical Trailer

AVC: Although the focus of this film is obviously on the relationship between Taylor and Timothy’s characters, her relationship with Mark’s character feels similarly adolescent in that his feelings are equally powerful, but possibly even less mature than theirs. How tough was it to find the right balance for that character that his efforts to ingratiate himself felt kind of menacing or that his yearning for companionship sort of fed into the dynamic that brings these other two together?

LG: You put it so well, Todd—you said it all. Basically, Sully’s interest in Maren is like a teenager in love. It’s only that he doesn’t understand that she’s not reciprocating and he cannot see that she’s not there for him as much as he wanted her to be there for him. And so that’s the crushing disappointment that he goes through that leads to the destructive force that he unleashes there. And we wanted the movie to be seen from his perspective, as much as Lee and Maren’s perspective. But me and Mark Rylance wanted to make sure that he would come across as humanly possible as someone who has a sense of desperation for what he wants and he cannot achieve.

AVC: Looking at his casting and also Michael Stuhlbarg’s, it’s amazing to think about him in Call Me By Your Name and how different he is in this film. When you’re casting these actors who are so successful at transforming, do you find yourself challenging them to push them out of their comfort zone?

LG: They like it! I don’t need to push anybody. It’s fun. They know that we are going to go into places that are extreme somehow. But they are actors, and actors play. And to play means to have fun in doing what you do. So I’m lucky because I have been working with some of the greatest and they have always being very, very devoted to the process.

AVC: There have some comparisons between this film and Twilight, possibly to be derisive. But I also think it speaks to the attitude a lot of older people have about the all consuming nature of young love. You’ve told love stories from a lot of different perspectives. How difficult is it to do that with empathy, and without the perspective of adult experience or hindsight?

LG: I mean, people who know me tell me that I am very romantic (laughs). I am. I have that approach to life. But I don’t know. I like to look at things and people. I’m open.

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