Watch any Luca Guadagnino movie and you’re swept up in the exquisite beauty of the surroundings as well as the lush story he’s telling. Call Me by Your Name is so rich you can almost smell the warm and luxurious Italian summer as Timothee Chalamet’s Elio fascination with his father’s intern, Oliver (Armie Hammer) evolves from infatuation to love.
Oliver’s arrival awakens young Elio to feelings he never felt before, and a slow burning passion develops between the two. Call Me by Your Name first screened at Sundance and became an instant Awards contender, with James Ivory’s screenplay and Guadagnino’s direction capturing a grand and yet simple Italian summer love affair. Expect to see this film receive a bounty of nominations and awards in coming weeks.
I caught up briefly with Guadagnino to talk about the four-hour first cut, the chemistry between his two actors, and how he found the perfect summer house to set Call Me by Your Name.
I hear there was a four-hour cut of the film.
The point is when you shoot a movie you shoot all the scenes and then you sit down to watch it all and try to figure out a running time that makes sense.
Once I did the first pass at editing with Walter Pasano we realized the movie was so long and there were so many things we were happy with and the rhythm of the Summer was spread out. We had to make difficult editing decisions because some scenes were just so gorgeous and the acting was fantastic, but we wanted to focus on the pacing of the film and had to cut them out.
I saw James Ivory speak about the film at the Middleburg Film Festival. Can you share the story of how you got involved as a director for this?
James was involved in this project like a godfather. At the time we had a different director attached and there was the possibility of the film not even being made. He was a producer and we asked if he wanted to write the screenplay and he said yes. So we worked on it together until we got it to a place we liked. So we put the budget and schedule together to try to get it to a point where he could direct it, but unfortunately, the market wasn’t at the place for us to make it.
We made the movie for much less money and in less time.
The book was written in first person and what I loved was how you didn’t use voiceover or narration to tell the story. Why did you decide not to go that route for the film?
I’m not a great admirer of voiceover and a character telling you their emotions. I think it’s uncinematic and think it’s a bad thing to have in a movie. For me, there was no doubt about how I wanted to make it. I never would have made a movie with Elio’s voiceover. We wanted to make a movie that followed behavior and that’s exactly what we did.
You struck gold with your casting with Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer. They had such natural chemistry and so much desire is expressed in their body language. What did you tell them?
I told them to be light. I told them to wear this lightness and goofiness. I didn’t want to play it on a grave note. I wanted something that was frothy and told them to just enjoy it.
What was it like for you seeing them together for the first time through your lens?
Every time you make a movie it’s a miracle and it’s always a joy. They were so great in their sincerity and honesty towards the camera and to the movie and their friendship comes through to make you believe in what’s going to happen as the story progresses.
Talk about the pacing and flow to create that burning desire between Elio and Oliver?
I think the pacing strictly follows the pacing of Elio and Oliver’s heartbeat. It’s summertime. There’s time for lounging and there’s ambition to get with someone and that’s the rhythm we wanted to faithfully create. We wanted the film to be like their heartbeat.
The landscape in your films always serve as a character. Where does that influence come from?
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Ethiopia. It’s a place where the eye can see so much and maybe that upbringing gave me that sense. I love places and architecture.
Where did you find that perfect and idyllic summer house?
I saw it a few years ago and that’s why I chose to shoot the film there. I knew it was going to be the perfect place to set the film. I had the privilege of visiting it and James had originally set the scenery in Sicily so it was a big leap from Southern Italy to the North.
What was the conversation you had with Sufjan Stevens about the music you wanted?
I wanted him to contribute the music because he’s a great poet and a great lyricist. His voice is so pure. I thought one song would have given the film a new level of poignancy, but he gave me two songs and they were so beautiful.
Your camerawork is invisible.
We shot with one camera and one lens. We shot in 35mm film stock and 35mm lens. I wanted something that was so simple. I didn’t want to dwarf the characters with the style of the film. We tried to be as unobtrusive as possible with the camerawork.
Did you have any idea that audiences would be so enthusiastic about the film?
It’s humbling to know how much this film is beloved and it’s reassuring to my team. Did we expect this reaction? No. It surprises me and empowers us to be bold with our film making. It’s a beautiful moment and it’s interesting to see how this story of two people who make each other better is great to see. It’s beautiful.
Call Me By Your Name is released on November 24.