Pin It
Call Me By Your Name Luca Guadagnino
Call Me By Your Name (2017)Illustration by Callum Abbott

Luca Guadagnino: ‘Elio would be a bedroom producer if the film was set now’

Call Me By Your Name Luca Guadagnino

The Italian director discusses Call Me By Your Name’s cult legacy, how Elio and Oliver might have missed each other in the 2010s, and how he very nearly didn’t film the movie’s iconic peach scene

Deep fakes, influencers, viral fashion – we live in a world unrecognisable from the one we stood in ten years ago. As a chaotic decade comes to a close, we're speaking to the people who helped shape the last ten years and analysing the cultural shifts that have defined them. Explore the decade on our interactive timeline here, or head here to check out all our features.

In the final moments of Call Me By Your Name, as Elio stares into a roaring fireplace and the gentle chords of Sufjan Stevens’ “Visions of Gideon” play out, hearts around the world broke. With tears welling in his eyes, and (spoiler) the news that the man he fell in love with over the course of one hot Italian summer is engaged to be married ringing in his ears, the scene sums up the quiet, formative agony of first love lost, and the beauty that lies in even this, the saddest of moments. 

Of course, it wasn’t Luca Guadagnino’s first rodeo in this respect. As the driving force behind films including I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, the director has an inherent talent for exploring the murkiest depths of the relationships that make and break us, turning even the most fraught, turbulent, and painful experiences into something beautiful. In Guadagnino’s movies, and particularly Call Me By Your Name, there is an underlying joy in even the bleakest of situations, as he encourages you, in much the same way Elio’s dad Samuel does in his gut-wrenching monologue, to let every emotion wash over you and feel everything – because to not do so is not a life lived fully. 

More than any of Guadagnino’s films, though, Call Me By Your Name hit hard on its release, gaining the kind of mainstream popularity his other cult classics never. Its appeal hasn’t waned since – with teens from Brooklyn to Berlin and beyond proclaiming their undying love for Timothée Chalamet and die-hard fans taking to social media to grill the director as to what we can expect from the upcoming sequel. And that’s before we get started on the ways in which the iconic peach scene has entered the lexicon of popular culture in a way no one saw coming (no pun intended). 

“We made a movie without labelling the characters in any way, which feels liberation to whoever watches it. I feel like the oppression of boxing yourself into a specific identity is something we human beings generally feel kind of awkward about” – Luca Guadagnino

But what is it that so resonates with so many, and particularly the upcoming generation? According to Guadagnino, CMBYN’s unwavering popularity could be down to the ways in which its characters are simply allowed to ‘be’. “We made a movie without labelling them in any way, which feels liberating to whoever watches it,” he explains. “In Call Me By Your Name, the characters are really free not to define themselves.” 

The idea rings true. Though the movie may be set in the mid-1980s, its message and themes hit home in 2019. This last decade has seen the upcoming generation push back against the binary and refuse to define their sexuality, with 49 per cent of 18-24 year olds defining themselves as something other than heterosexual in the UK alone. Though the slogan may have been co-opted by one too many corporations when Pride month rolls around, love is love, and the upcoming generation is blazing a trail for a new kind of freedom when it comes to both sexuality and gender. Rarely is that depicted on-screen in the way it is in Call Me By Your Name

Here, we sit down with Luca Guadagnino to discuss the film’s cultural legacy and why it has become definitive of a decade, his reservations about even including the peach scene, and why Elio and Oliver would have likely missed each other had the film been set in the 2010s.

Dazed has singled out Call Me By Your Name as one of the definitive films of the decade. Is there a film that defined your teenage years in the same way that CMBYN has for many teens today?

Luca Guadagnino: Well, it’s a complicated answer, because I am the kind of person who is always flitting between this very heavy, strong, very deep cinephiliac identity, but then, from a very young age, I’ve always loved these things that probably don’t stand out as what you might call cinematic experiences at all. So I’m tempted to say that a movie like Flashdance was a very strong piece of filmmaking that had a huge impression on me when I was a teenager, but at the same time, probably in the same year, I also discovered The Marriage of Maria Braun by Fassbinder, which also had a big effect on me. 

Who was your first love and how did you feel when you met them? What happened? 

Luca Guadagnino: I’m very sceptical about public people talking about their private lives, so I’m kind of not inclined to do that. I can tell you that definitely my capacity of falling in love goes hand-in-hand with the ‘sit it at the back seat of the room’ attitude I’ve always had. For me it was more about the fantasies and desires that crossed my mind and heart when I was young, as opposed to the actual act of loving and being loved when I was young. 

“When we were shooting the peach scene, I remember I called ‘Cut!’ and I turned to my DP and he was quietly sobbing at the back of the room” – Luca Gudagnino

In what way? 

Luca Guadagnino: Well, there is actually a scene in Call Me By Your Name that really reminded me of who I am, and who I was. It’s the moment in which Elio is sitting on a table at the disco club and he is looking at people dancing – and in particular at Oliver dancing. That’s what I think I was very much like when I was young. Always at the back of the room, looking at people dancing. But then Elio jumps onto the dancefloor, and I never jumped on the dancefloor.

Did you think about anyone else in mind for the roles of Elio and Oliver, and if so, who? 

Luca Guadagnino: No, I hadn’t thought of anybody else. The movie changed many times before I became the last director to take the helm of it, before that I was producing it. Some of the people who were supposed to take it had their own ideas, but then when I was given the wand of command on the direction, I got exactly who I wanted. 

Were you surprised by the way in which the film’s infamous peach scene has become a cultural force of its own?

Luca Guadagnino: It’s no mystery that I felt kind of awkward about the scene, and when I was developing the movie as a director I was very sceptical about it.  I didn’t understand the metaphor first of all, and then I didn’t understand, as a filmmaker, how to put it onto the screen. I felt like doing so was kind of contrived, so I resisted it. I remember many, many times talking with my editor and director of photography about not filming the scene, because not only did I not get it, I didn’t understand the mechanics either. But then I decided to go for it with more of a laid-back attitude, and with the great performances Timothée and Armie gave I realised it was somehow miraculously working and the film was complete. I knew it was going to be felt to be quite outrageous, but at the same time, because of the performances, it became kind of cheeky and also very liberating. 

It was kind of shocking for sure, but I think for many it was one of the most beautiful scenes of the film – it’s a very poignant moment for Elio and Oliver, given that in the lead-up we see Elio doing a lot of the chasing and this scene really lays bare his vulnerabilities. Between this, the moment Elio talks to his dad, and the final fireside scene, were there some emotional moments on set throughout filming? 

Luca Guadagnino:  It was a very emotional, intense set. When we were shooting the peach scene, I remember I called “Cut!” and I turned to my DP and he was quietly sobbing at the back of the room. 

What about the scene between Elio and his dad?  

Luca Guadagnino: I think it was more like we were all sad because it was probably close to the last days of shooting, but I don’t think anyone cried. We were just left breathless by the incredible performances Michael and Timothée gave. 

“If Call Me By Your Name was set in the 2010s, Elio would be a teenager still, maybe composing music on a computer, and Oliver would be an academic, and maybe they would both use their cellphones way too much. And maybe they would miss each other because of that” – Luca Guadagnino

What was your first conversation with Sufjan Stevens like? What did you discuss when it came to the soundtrack of the film? 

Luca Guadagnino: I think I told him that I wanted an idyllic state of emotions in the movie. That the movie was going to rely mostly on piano pieces. And that I found that his voice was filled with such meaningfulness and grace. He went away and read the script, and then the book. He is an incredibly sensitive artist who translated our conversation into something so beautiful and poetic. 

If Call Me By Your Name was set in 2010s, what would Elio and Oliver be like? 

Luca Guadagnino: If Call Me By Your Name was set in the 2010s, Elio would be a teenager still, maybe composing music on a computer, and Oliver would be an academic, and maybe they would both use their cellphones way too much. And maybe they would miss each other because of that.

Why do you think the film resonated so much in the 2010s? Do you think it could have been released another time, like in the 1980s for example, and still gotten the kind of reception it received? 

Luca Guadagnino: I guess, and I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but I think it’s probably because we made a movie in which we let the characters ‘be’ without labelling them in any way, which feels liberating to whoever watches the movie. I feel like the oppression of boxing yourself into a specific identity is something that we human beings generally feel kind of awkward about. You know, particularly in the Anglo Saxon culture, the definition of the self or the definition of the undefinedness of self can become quite oppressive, whereas I feel like the characters (in Call Me By Your Name) are really free not to define themselves. 

Could you tell us a little about where the second Call Me By Your Name will pick up? 

Luca Guadagnino: No, I can’t, obviously I can’t! (laughs).

Okay, well it was worth a try. What we do know is that the story picks up in 1990. With music so intrinsic to CMBYN, Elio’s posters and various t-shirts, and of course the incredible soundtrack, what bands do you think he will be stanning in the sequel? 

Luca Guadagnino: Actually, I haven’t thought about it yet. I don’t know. Maybe he would love Kate Bush

What did you think 2020 would look like when you were a kid?

Luca Guadagnino: Well I was kind of terrified of becoming an adult and having to take care of myself. That was a very strong anxiety I had when I was very young. But at the same time I never overvalued youth in myself,  I always wanted to get older so I could make things. I guess I didn’t believe in the future that you see in movies, they have always gotten it wrong. But at the same time I feel like I was kind of fearful of who I could become vis a vis the future, and my capacity of being independent. I think I did pretty well, though (laughs)

“That’s what I like when I was young. Always at the back of the room, looking at people dancing. But then Elio jumps onto the dancefloor, and I never jumped on the dancefloor” – Luca Gudagnino

Who defined the 2010s for you? Who inspired you most throughout the last decade?

Luca Guadagnino: My partner.

What would you like us to leave behind as we enter the 20s? 

Luca Guadagnino: Well, I would say Brexit, the Trump presidency, and this obnoxious and emotional approach to politics. I think people should think more than feel when it comes to politics. And, of course, I’d love to see the affirmation of human rights all around the world. 

Do you have a message for Dazed readers as we go into the next decade?

Luca Guadagnino: Keep reading Dazed! (laughs).

Lastly - I suppose this one isn’t really a question as opposed to a request for clarification – but in the nightclub scene, when Oliver is dancing, the Psychedelic Furs song that’s playing starts with the line “There’s an army on the dancefloor” and Armie is literally on the dancefloor. Was this an in-joke that was done on purpose or just a weird coincidence?  

Luca Guadagnino: No, that was just a beautiful coincidence, and cinema, much like life, is filled with beautiful coincidences.