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‘Call Me by Your Name’ Team on Romance, Sufjan Stevens, Maurice Pialat, and Sequel Potential

Written by Joshua Encinias on October 11, 2017 

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Call Me By Your Name came to the 55th New York Film Festival last week and both screenings were met with rapturous applause and standing ovations (a rare occurrence at the fest). Director Luca Guadagnino participated a press conference with the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Dennis Lim, and also did a public Q&A at NYFF Live with actors Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Timothée Chalamet at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater.

In the press conference, Guadagnino discussed his collaboration with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (who also shot his upcoming Suspiria remake), Sufjan Stevens writing two original songs for the film when only one was requested, and avoiding romantic film cliches.

Hammer and Chalamet talked about the non-verbal sensuality of their character’s relationship at NYFF Live. Stuhlbarg discussed his character’s famous conversation with Elio in the film, and Guadagnino lists all the things he hates about filmmaking (hint: it’s a lot).

In these talks, it’s clear there was a lot of love going into making Call Me By Your Name, and based on audience reception, the alchemy on set worked.

Luca Guadagnino’s definition of cinema

We live in space. We are the outcome of the relationship between each other and the space. The truth is, what is cinema for me, is a translation of our capacity of being sentient through the mystery of the editing. And I try to approach my work and my films from a perspective that is a little bit less narrow. So I don’t convey and relay what are the tropes of any kind. Whether it’s the trope of art cinema, the trope of a horror movie or love story. I try to rely on behavior and the physical space where this behavior happens to unfold.

Guadagnino on avoiding cliches in romances

I want to sound neither pompous or pretentious, it’s a very difficult one. But I will be honest because New Yorkers are very direct. I always found myself restless as an audience member to all the films that tell the coming of age that are relying on the cliche. On the assumption what a narrative has to deliver in order to get there. There’s a cliche for every generation and for those majority of cliched films, there are standouts. Rebel Without A Cause by Nick Ray, of course. But there was one that was very, very dear to me, and it’s À nos amours by Maurice Pialat. What is great about Pialat cinema is the capacity to avoid the traps of a narrative and to be very at the center of his characters and letting live the flesh and blood and bone and sperm and every other biological fluids of his characters in a way that’s really connected to his audience because we are like the people on the screen. So I would say I wanted to prove myself, that I could tell the story from the perspective of someone like Pialat instead of the perspective of a three-act script. The idea that there is a contrast against the lovers. It’s something that is so artificial, you know? That there has to be somebody that’s going to contrast them and then the love will triumph. In the gay canon, it will triumph or be bittersweet, or it will not triumph.

Guadagnino on translating the book for the screen

The book is a Proustian book about remembering things passed. Indulging into the age of melancholy of lost things. I felt that was beautiful but I felt that a movie being in present time would be much more efficient and strong in making the audience be in the shoes of these characters.

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Guadagnino on working with Sufjan Stevens

I personally dislike the idea of voiceover of your main character telling the story retrospectively. Maybe because in a way it kills the surprise. I like in cinema when you have an ominous narrator. It’s something that fascinates me a lot, and in fact, I wanted that here. In a way the narrator became Sufjan Stevens with his new songs, made contemporary, about our story, which is back. The only direction I gave Sufjan was to ask him to do it – it’s Sufjan Stevens [laughs]. We wanted a sort of narrator that could make justice of the book, of the film, drawn from the narrative of Elio. We wanted something that wasn’t as close to us in first person. I felt Sufjan’s lyricism, both in the voice and the lyrics itself, had some beautiful elusiveness on one hand, on the other hand poignancy that were really resonate. In fact, when I approached him, and he’s a very reserved person as an artist. So it was quite a challenge to see if he wanted to play with us. And eventually when he did say yes, his tools were the script, the book, our conversation about the characters and I would say his own source of inspirations. I wanted one song and he gave us two: Visions of Gideon, which is the one that closes the movie, and Mystery of Love. There was this Futile Devices that he sung, from the album Chicago, I think. [Editor’s note: it’s from The Age of Adz]. We asked him to remake it with piano to be close to Elio.

The director on Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography

This is my second film working with him where I was a producer. I worked on a movie with him on a movie I produced called Antonia by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino. That’s how we got to meet Sayombhu; those are the ways of cinema because Ferdinando loved Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films and when I asked him who he would like to work with as a DP, he said to me this guy and we contacted him and then Ferdinando and Sayombhu met and they basically fell in love with one another. When we came to make his movie, which was his first non-Thai film ever. … Our relationship with Sayombhu was so exquisite and extraordinary, and his capacity to create an atmosphere and at the same time understanding the characters was so astonishing that I had to beg Ferdinando to allow me to call Sayombhu, because it was very generous of his relationship. Finally, he said okay, go ahead. I approached him and he came. We wanted to have this scorching summer’s heat in the film, but the process was really plagued by heavy rains that almost lasted the entirety of the shoot so he created the light completely artificially.

Luca Guadagnino’s three favorite romantic films

One is Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock, which is the ‘morbidity of love,’ the second one is L’atalante by Jean Vigo, amazing film, like really amazing. And the third one is Journey to Italy by Roberto Rossellini. Those are the few that come up right now but there are many.

On casting

Timothée Chalamet: I met with Luca four years ago and then I met with James Ivory soon after that. There was kind of a loose plan to put it together that summer but it didn’t come around. It always seemed like the project that was too good to be true and the opportunity that on paper seemed like a dream role but it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. Because of powers way above my pay grade, eventually it did. I got to Italy a month early and I think I met Armie a couple of weeks before we were going to film. I was in one of the piano lessons for the film and Armie barged in.

Armie Hammer: I went for tea at Luca’s house and didn’t hear back for four years or so. I got a call from my agent and he said Luca’s doing a new movie and I was like, I’m in. He said I might want to read it first. I read the script and after having several really great conversations with Luca, I came to the conclusion that there was no way I couldn’t do this movie.

Michael Stuhlbarg on the emotional talk he gives to Elio

I think every aspect of the possibility of making this movie excited me to be part of it. [The monologue his character gives] was absolutely a highlight for me, but getting to work with Luca and getting to work with these beautiful young men. In terms of my material in the film, we shot it very much in order. As professor Pearlman watches what’s happening between these two, I got to watch them as well over the course of making the movie. And to get to say what I got to say was kind of a climax to the time of making the whole film. It grew and changed in me over time and it was absolutely a highlight.

The director on his qualms with the process of filmmaking

I’m really bored by the process of filmmaking. I hate it, I don’t like it at all. It’s true! There’s development, which is hell. There’s preparation, which is exciting. There is the shoot, which is a drug. And there is post-production editing, which is fantastic. So, the part I like the least is absolutely the shooting. At least this movie was less bad because I was going back home and sleeping in my bed (in Crema, Italy where the film was shot). It’s fifty people asking things and it’s the effort you make to make things happen. We all make the effort together but there’s a tension. You have this scene and you have this long monologue and then you go, action! And then you’re like this [makes a tense face] until it’s over because you hope it’s going to go good, but ninety percent of the time it goes wrong and then you have to start again… I hate it.

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Timothée and Armie on their character’s non-verbal relationship

Timothée Chalamet: It felt tremendously freeing. I always like in the film where it seems like the love is first revealed, it plays out in a very long, wide shot. I like to play things out in long scenes. So much of the story, this book and screenplay, and hopefully how it comes off in the film, it is a physical dialogue, and a push-pull and a wrestling match of sorts. So from the perspective of acting I found it tremendously freeing, it doesn’t feel like you’re restricted by a frame and that you have to play everything in a close-up.

Armie Hammer: It was also nice to play in a movie that didn’t have any exposition in it. No, “And besides, you also have to remember that the captain is over there!” There’s none of that. It felt like a much more replication of how people actually speak. Very few people actually say what’s on their mind. They’re always, “I was thinking we should actually try this.” People are never direct, so to get to play that with two people who are incapable of being direct because they have so much to learn about themselves and the world and who they are. So you’re watching two people really try, which feels analogous to a lot of situations we find ourselves in.

Luca Guadagnino on the film’s sex scenes

I remember the script was pretty graphic in the description of the first time they make love. I was struggling with that because coming from someone who debuted in 1993 with a short film that was pretty out there, called Here, I think I’m interested in the representation of sex between people if that is in an insight about their behavior and who they are. But if it’s an illustration or transition, I just don’t care. I think we had everything we needed in the movie about their intimacy, about the necessity of attraction to one another. I found it erotic when they put their feet on top of the other’s feet. That moment is so strong and so powerful because it dictates an urgency of intimacy. What would we have gained in seeing the actual physical act between the two of them? I think not much. I also like the idea that we gaze toward the window and to the trees like a McCarthy-era movie. We were free to show everything and we decided not to. And in a way it was a very liberating experience.

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Everyone’s favorite classic films

Luca Guadagnino: Journey to Italy by Roberto Rossellini with George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman. It’s the movie that influences me the most.

Armie Hammer: One of my favorites has always been Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman.

Timothée Chalamet: For me I’d say Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum.

Michael Stuhlbarg: Cabaret.

Rumors of a sequel

Luca Guadagnino: André’s book doesn’t end with the end of the summer. It keeps going for another fifty pages and goes through twenty years time. I think I have discovered my complete, absolute passion for these characters and the people we made the movie together. Because I’m an old-fashioned cinephile, I think maybe there’s a place in which we could try a cycle of films about these people, the way the glorious, legendary cycle of Antoine Doinel made by Truffaut. I don’t think the lives of Elio, Oliver and Mr. Pearlman and the rest of the gang is completed by the experience of this very first film, so maybe, who knows. It depends on the actors, will they do it?

Armie Hammer: I’m in.

Timothée Chalamet: Me too.

Michael Stuhlbarg: Okay.

Call Me by Your Name screened at the 55th New York Film Festival and opens on November 24.


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