Luca Guadagnino
Photo by Rich Fury

Luca Guadagnino: “I try to surrender to my evidences”

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Short Profile

Name: Luca Guadagnino
DOB: 10 August 1971
Place of birth: Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Occupation: Film director, screenwriter

Mr. Guadagnino, do you believe in the Auteur Theory?

I think Hollywood believes in the Auteur Theory — you know why? They would not endorse a very individual voice like Christopher Nolan otherwise. Nolan made movies that have been successful, sure, but many other directors have also been successful and they are still going through the process of control… But Nolan goes for his own way. He is one of the ultimate auteurs.

What about for you personally as a filmmaker?

I don’t believe in the Auteur Theory. I think it is a fantastic idea but — actually, you know what? Yes I do. I’ll tell you why: because the real Auteur Theory says, “The greatest auteur of all times was Hitchcock.” Alfred Hitchcock was considered a popcorn movie director who was working for the studios but actually he owned the studios, he part-owned Universal at a certain stage of his life. His movies were such an individual creation and they were really forged in a way that only he could do. He was in such a control of his work. And I would say the possibility of that complete control is what drives my projects.

“It’s about pushing people to the limit. I think when you have trust then people can try things that are really pushing.”

Is that why you often work with the same cast and crew?

Today, I think it’s horror vacui — the fear of emptiness.

And yesterday?

Yesterday I thought it was about the concept of the factory. Maybe it’s both! The factory of horror vacui, I don’t know! It’s just I really like to be with people that I like. I’m not socializing a lot as a person so for me to be able to have this social environment on set, it’s something that’s reassuring. It’s also about pushing people to the limit. All of them! I think when you have trust, when you know one another then people can really feel relaxed and try things that are really pushing.

There must also be a comfort in that familiarity because there is less risk involved when you know that a cast works well together.

Right, it’s familiar. I think it’s about sharing adventures. I completely understand Francis Coppola, the way he makes movies. He has this group of people, they’ve been working together forever, and I like that. I don’t see my job as a job, I don’t see my work as a new chapter of my business. I do films because I like to be with people, and I like to be with the people I like. And I like to invite new people into the group! And I think the texture we built together is very consistent. With Call Me by Your Name, we created a place in which you believe in the world. They’re young but they’re growing up.

What is it about that bourgeois life that interests you?

That’s a very tricky one because I don’t know if I am interested in the bourgeois life, to be honest. 

Really? Not even in I Am Love or A Bigger Splash?

I Am Love is about a Russian woman who has to escape the cage she buried herself into, that comes to be a gilded cage of entitlement. A Bigger Splash is more about rock stars with a sort of aggressively bigger-than-life life. I don’t think that Call Me by Your Name is about bourgeoisie either… It’s about aristocracy, and not only the actual aristocracy but also the aristocracy of the arts and culture. It’s about intellectuals! I think bourgeois is quite a miserable environment so I am not interested in that. Of course, a director should never claim a sort of “only one reading” about their work. The work is there, so it’s for the world to decide whatever they are! But if you ask me what interests me in bourgeoisie, I would say, “Not much.”

So what interests you then?

I think it’s infectious to see how people can be connected to their desires. This movie is about inclusion and this movie is about, as the title suggests, wanting to be embodied by the other — which is almost Christian, you know, like I love the other in its otherness. So for me, it’s an emotional journey that doesn’t need to be pushed by effects.

“I believe in being organic to the story and the characters.”

Which effects?

For example, nudity would have been an effect. I don’t believe in effects in cinema. I don’t. I believe in being organic to the story and the characters. Did you miss penises in the movie?

I didn’t even think about penises in the movie.

Did you think the movie was coy for that?

It’s not coy at all. To me, this movie felt more in line with the traditions of Italian cinema than American cinema.

Well, I mean, if you remember the beginning of 1900 by Bernardo Bertolucci, you see the two kids that later become De Niro and Depardieu… I remember distinctively the way in which Bertolucci made these two characters bond, and grow on screen for the first hour of the movie.

I just watched it the new 4K version, and those childhood scenes are nearly two hours long.

Amazing. How beautiful it is. That movie is so complex! It’s about the search for meaning; it’s about Bernardo’s search in the canon of the melodrama; it’s the search for Italian identity within the blood of Fascism… And there are a lot of things that are also contradictory! The Communist party in the eighties and the seventies indicted the movie as decadent because he dared to put the melodrama in relationship with the ideology of Communism and the struggle of the classes. But that was Bertolucci so they missed the point!

Was 1900 an inspiration for Call Me by Your Name?

Every movie I do, I try to put my mind into the place in which I believe certain directors would have made certain films. How would, for instance, Scorsese have made a film like La Piscine? That’s the way I did A Bigger Splash. How would Fassbinder have made something like Suspiria? I’m becoming more and more passionate about Kore-eda, the great Japanese filmmaker. So one day I thought, “How would Kore-eda make this film?” But yes, of course, Bernardo has been a lighthouse for me. I’ve been following his light… I have the privilege of sending my movies when they are done before they are finished so that he can tell me what he thinks.

Does he normally like them?

Well, he’s not very tender. He can be very sharp. But I like him for that. Actually I am happy to hear any kind of criticism because they come from a place of intelligence and listening. If you say to me, “Luca, I believe you wanted to convey this but I don’t know if you get through that in this way…” I will listen to you and I will understand. I think the movies are made out of the unconscious of the filmmakers, not out of their ego, you know?

“I try to surrender to my evidences and not to be driven by them — to let them be me without being conscious about it.”

The unconscious?

A good movie comes from the unconscious to me! For me, it’s how you attract elements together. You welcome things and you think, “That’s an interesting thing,” but you don’t think rationally about things. For instance, the decision to shoot Call Me by Your Name in Crema, it’s not a conscious decision, it’s more like, “I want to shoot there.” And then I realized that that is leading me to the way I was when I was a young man in Palermo, Sicily. My sense of dreaming of becoming an individual that was independent from that oppressiveness that I felt in Sicily. I think you go to things through a way that you don’t expect. 

Would you say you work mostly in the unconscious now?

I am conscious and unconscious. I was a bit silly when I was making my movies at the beginning of my path… I was really adamant in making my references evident. Now, I try to surrender to my evidences and not to be driven by them — to let them be me without being conscious about it. I think the best you can do for yourself is let your subconscious drive you, instead of doing things because you want to achieve some sort of glory.