Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name” is the third in what he calls his “Desire” trilogy, following his equally terrific films “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash.”
The Italian-born director explains that a trilogy was never planned: “It was something I realized afterwards. I hope that I’m not going to make a pentalogy,” he joked during a recent phone interview to promote the movie.
“Call Me by Your Name” was adapted by legendary filmmaker James Ivory from a novel by André Aciman. It tells the story of 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), who is summering with his family in Italy in 1983.
His father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology, takes on a student assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Over the course of the summer, Elio and Oliver fall slowly in love.
The new film is less edgy than the previous two, and has a relaxing summer-outdoor-vacation feel that inspires descriptions like “beautiful.”
But Guadagnino is wary of that word. “The notion that someone makes a movie by the fashion of finding pretty images is a notion that I fear and dread and am repelled by,” he says.
“Robert Bresson said something very important,” he continues, referring to the legendary French filmmaker who died in 1999.
“He said, never make a beautiful image because cinema is the outcome of a series of images put together. The editing is the most important part,” Guadagnino says.
Guadagnino says he focuses on people and behavior, giving “an infusion of serenity to the images.” In one long scene, for example, Elio simply wanders around the villa, going from room to room, and touching things.
The director also gave his actors an incredible gift by shooting the film in chronological order, over 30 days, with all actors on set every day.
“Chronological order makes your performances happier, and it moves the movie in a way that’s more organic,” he says.
“Plus,” he continues, “This is the movie in which I had the most collaborative endeavor from each and every performer. It wasn’t like I had Michael 20 days out of 30. He was there all the time. That’s precious.”
Stuhlbarg, also on the phone, chimes in, talking about how this shooting schedule aided his most powerful scene, a soft-spoken speech given to his son about love.
“The text had been living in me for a number of weeks before we started,” he says. “And in my place as a father, I got to watch things grow and change. I got to watch the two actors get to know each other and the characters do their dance in their own way. And by the time we were to put that scene down on film, I was ready to share what my own experience was.”
“You never know what something is going to be,” he continues. “You just do it and find a way to make it resonate for yourself.”
Apparently, everything worked perfectly: “Call Me by Your Name” received the longest standing ovation in the history of the New York Film Festival, lasting some 10 minutes.
“It was fantastic,” says a grateful Guadagnino. “We had more than a thousand people standing in tears. It was humbling.”
IF YOU GO
Call Me by Your Name
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
Written by James Ivory
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Running time 2 hours, 12 minutes