First things first: Yes, Luca Guadagnino still wants to make a sequel to “Call Me By Your Name” with Timothée Chalamet as the soul-searching Elio, but he wouldn’t put it in those terms. “A sequel is an American concept,” the filmmaker said during an interview at the Telluride Film Festival. “It’s more like the chronicles of Elio, the chronicles of this young boy becoming a man. It is something I want to do.”
For now, though, Guadagnino has already satiated his desire to collaborate with the actor who became a star as a result of that 2017 romance. With “Bones and All,” Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich have transformed Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 cannibal into a gothic plunge into the ’80s-era midwest. Equal parts “Badlands” and “Bonnie and Clyde,” the movie is a sensitive look at the kind of marginalized characters who populate all of Guadagnino’s films.
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A scrawny Chalamet plays Lee, the wily romantic interest of fellow “eater” and runaway Maren (“Waves” breakout Taylor Russell in her first lead role). The pair meet after Maren’s father has left her, and she has evaded the advances of a creepier nomadic cannibal named Sully (Mark Rylance). Scruffier and more antic than Elio, Chalamet’s character provides a new dimension to the actor-director team. Guadagnino said he had Chalamet in mind for some kind of collaboration even before “Bones and All” came his way.
“It’s not as if I left Timothée at the height of his booming success, and then I found him four years later,” Guadagnino said. “We kept close. I knew that there was not much time to wait until we worked together, but only for the right project.”
Guadagnino has already shrugged off the parallels between the subject of his movie and the cannibal sex fantasies at the root of accusations against Chalamet’s “Call Me By Your Name” co-star Armie Hammer. While that career has imploded, Guadagnino gushed about Chalamet’s ballooning star power. “To see the humbleness and rigor with which he made his first steps toward stardom — this bright, feverish young man became this planetary star — made me so proud,” Guadagnino said. “There is a very beautiful bond between me.”
Chalamet has been unable to travel the festival circuit with “Bones and All” due to his production schedule for “Dune: Part Two,” though he made the rounds in Venice. Russell, however, joined Guadagnino in Telluride, where “Waves” premiered three years ago. She said that she and Chalamet had circled other projects before that never came to fruition.
“I think both of us had a feeling we were going to work together on the right thing,” she said. “From the beginning with Timothée, he made a point to make me feel like I deeply belonged with this group of people, that nothing I could do would be bad, and if I felt any sort of insecurity I could talk to him and he could comfort me. There’s a safety net we shared where there was no judgment.”
Russell had just watched Guadagnino’s Gen Z-infused HBO miniseries “We Are Who We Are” when he got in touch. “It hit me so deeply,” she said. “He’s on my list of directors where the best possible outcome would be me working with him. It could’ve been any film, and I would’ve done it with Luca.”
She added that the movie’s willingness to portray its cannibal protagonists in empathetic terms stood out to her in the script. “It felt very punk and authentic to just say, ‘Fuck everything, this is the reality of these people and it’s about love,’” she said. “At the end of the day, all of Luca’s movies are about that — love of people on the outside. This is an extreme version of that, but because it’s an extreme version, you really sink into it. I wasn’t worried about the cannibalism.”
Despite the “Badlands” comparisons, Guadagnino actually gave his actors a very different set of movies to watch to prepare for their roles: Agnes Varda’s “Vagabond,” Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped,” Roberto Rossellini’s “Germany: Year Zero,” and Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman.” All deal with ostracized people. “These movies are about people roaming around,” Guadagnino said. He was also inspired by Nicholas Ray’s “They Live By Night” and Friz Lang’s American films, in addition to William Eggleston’s photography. “The way in which he portrayed America is so touching,” Guadagnino said.
While the premise of “Bones and All” might scare off squeamish viewers, Guadagnino often cuts away from the goriest moments, though he said he had plenty of footage that could have yielded a different result. “We had way more,” he said. “I shot so much more, but in the editing process, my editor and I were always clear that we should never be selfish about our capacity to portray horror. There was a lot of pain that was happening to the characters, a kind of sacred reverence. It was quite beautiful, humbling, reverential.”
Still: There is plenty of blood. Guadagnino wasn’t worried about upsetting audiences. “I believe in the intelligence of people,” he said. “I don’t want to put an audience in a passive situation. I love the audience to be active with the movie. If that comes across, I have the possibility to express complexities that might seem intolerable.”
An exacting filmmaker, he has been reticent to take on commercial projects for years, including some major opportunities that came his way after the success of the Tilda Swinton vehicle “I Am Love” in 2009. “I was approached for big blockbusters, and some of them became huge,” he said. “But how can I manage that with my need for absolute control?”
Guadagnino shrugged off concerns for the industry as the pandemic entered a new chapter. “COVID has been a very powerful moment, but it’s been two years,” he said. “I’m 51 and have been doing this job since I was 15 making short films. I started professionally making films when I was 26. So almost 27 years passed by. I saw everything changing constantly. I don’t think things change in an irredeemable way in a year or two.”
UA/MGM releases “Bones and All” theatrically on November 23, 2022.
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