On tour across high-profile fall festivals since its premiere at Venice in early September, Luca Guadagnino’s teen cannibal romance Bones and All lands in theaters stateside this weekend. From the director behind I Am Love, Call Me by Your Name, and Suspiria (to name a few) comes a blend of all three: aching love, dark, fleshy horror, and Timothée Chalamet.

Guadagnino’s first film since 2018, Bones has scored favorable reviews (read mine here) and impressed juries across the globe, winning Taylor Russell the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actress and Guadagnino the Silver Bear for Best Director at Venice. The coming-of-age film, an adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’s 2015 novel of the same name, follows Maren (Russell), a teen who, for reasons unknown, needs to feed on human flesh to survive.

It’s a fact of life she abhors––a constant, earth-shattering existential conundrum that leaves her father no choice but to abandon her. We watch as she starts to drift alone, suffering, learning how to be on her own… until she meets someone like her: Lee (Chalamet), a reeking hunk of petulant neopunk energy who somehow manages to be charming. 

Guadagnino, in concert with his leads, imaginative creative department heads, and a terrific supporting cast, takes a bizarre story and makes it even stranger, fashioning a dark, bleak, stylized, and gripping film crossed between so many aesthetics you’re not sure who it’s for, just glad it’s here. In New York, I sat down with Guadagnino to talk about it.

The Film Stage: Your past four features begin with people who have just arrived in new places. A Bigger Splash, Call Me by Your Name, Suspiria, and now Bones and All, where Maren never stops traveling. Is that something you’re particularly interested in? Portraying people in foreign places?

Luca Guadagnino: I realized after I did Bones and All––and in-between my 50th and 51st birthday––I realized that I’m kind of repeating always. Not the same story or the same approach to character, but that I’m kind of drawn to people that are living always not in the center of places, center of things. They come from an odd place and they go to another odd place. Basically, I am interested in the position of the, kind of, outcast. Somehow. Even if it’s a self-outcasting.

Probably because––not to make it like some cheap psychoanalysis––my mother is Algerian, my father is Italian, and I grew up in Ethiopia, and then I moved from Ethiopia to Sicily, coming to Italy after having spent my childhood in that country. To come back to a place where things were more conservative in a way made me realize very early on that I appreciate very much the kind of uniqueness of being yourself, in the way in which I was myself. So in a way, yes, I think that’s something that I don’t do consciously but I do get attracted to.

Bones and All feels like a vampire movie, but one that’s void of myth and tradition and all of that. Were you trying to create, as far as film history is concerned, a vampiric mood that felt totally separated from that? 

Everything is much more simple and probably boring than that. I have a story. I have characters. I have a world these characters inhabit. And I follow that. I never think in terms of, like, “Now I’m gonna do a genre movie. Now we’re gonna play with the genre.” I don’t think I’m interested in that.

So, when it comes to gore and violence in your films—say in Suspiria or this one—it’s just there because it’s best for the film? Or is that something you have an affinity for in cinema?

That’s for the film. [Long pause] It’s for the film.

Do you have an impulse as a filmmaker to make something violent before you have a story or characters in mind?

No. No, I think violence is part of our way of being constantly. And I think interaction with people comes with violence. Particularly, I think conflict and violence and disturbance are the basis upon which we live our lives. No matter how much contemporality is scared of conflict, conflict is at the basis of our interactions as people. 

Do you feel like the movie is attempting to display an alternative form––or traditional form––of partnership? Is that something you’re commenting on?

I don’t know if it’s alternative. I think Maren and Lee… they fall in love with each other.

So, like, a pretty traditional codependent monogamy?

I don’t know if they’re codependent. I actually believe that once the codependency seems to be a factor, they split. Only to find one another on a new ground after they return together.

What kind of atmosphere do you try to create on set? Do you have tricks you use to make sets enjoyable or is it not really like that?

No, no, no. I’m a bit of a control freak. And being one, I need to have everything well-organized and very well-done. But that’s something that doesn’t happen. Because everything is a mess. And, so I become quite intense. 

Is the film meticulously shot-listed, and if so, do you stick closely to that shot list?

No, no. The movie is meticulously built, which means you have to give all the premises for the scene to work. Everything has to be perfect. And then we can see how the actors will block the scene with me. Once we’ve learned that, then we can put the camera somewhere.

How was it working with Timothée Chalamet a second time?

It’s a partnership, and I’m very proud of working with him. It’s a very intense and beautiful collaboration that challenges one another to make the most precise thing out of it.

Did you stay in communication between films?

Yeah, we’re very good friends.

Bones and All struck me as a film about things that are either difficult to say we need or not okay to say we need—

It’s a description of the way in which everyone works, you know? Everybody has secrets. Everybody has thoughts they can’t share with everyone.

Why do you think we’re so concerned with appearing “good” about that when every—

Social norms. 

So it’s just the way others perceive us then? It’s not actually how we feel about ourselves? 

Social norms; it’s social norms. The pressure of social norms is humongous. And the way in which social norms work changes throughout time, and you have to adapt yourself to that.

Okay, speaking of adapting, what draws you to adaptations? And retelling stories?

Control. Adaptation is about control. Because when you know there is a template––a novel, a palimpsest, a previous movie––you know that cinema is about point of view. It’s not about the originality of the story. I don’t believe in the originality of the story. There’s no such thing as original stories.

I agree with you. But at the same time, your films feel original and different. They blend and disregard genre, etc. But is it tough to read a source novel or watch an old film and think, “I’m going to make this my own” when you know you don’t believe in original stories? Or is it all just organic for you? 

Well, for me, it’s about the nurturing of my imagination. So if I read a book that has an impact on my imagination and makes my imagination travel, then I want to find a way to make this journey my imagination is having within myself become an image that exists in reality. It’s about inspiration. It’s about a lot of inspiration. But sometimes you see a movie that you are not remaking but drives you very strongly toward the desire of bringing to life something this movie triggered in you.

I saw a movie called Betty by Claude Chabrol recently. With Marie Trintignant. Not only is it a masterpiece, but it really taught me a lot about things I was thinking about female characters. So I can’t wait to make that happen again. I can’t wait to tell the story of a great female character by now being inspired by Betty by Claude Chabrol.

Are you working on something to that effect now?

Not yet. But I will, for sure.

Does it bother you at all that the film might alienate people who want to see the romance but can’t handle the violence?

I’m using your interview to say to everyone who reads it: please do not feel alienated by the nature of these characters. They are who they are, but at the same time they are loving people who need love. So go and see it.

Bones and All opens on November 18.

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