Luca Guadagnino: Theatrical Audiences Will Return for ‘Right Movies,’ Teases ‘Challengers’

"I don’t want to be rude to the people at Netflix," the filmmaker said at the Provincetown Film Festival. "It’s not exactly my cup of tea."
Luca Guadagnino
Luca Guadagnino at the 2022 Provincetown Film Festival
Mae Gammino/PIFF

Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino isn’t too concerned about the supposed death of movie theaters. With two exciting new projects in the works (plus a slew of others in the offing) coming down the pipeline, he just may be the one to save it himself. The Italian director is preparing to entice and surprise audiences with his new cannibalism romance “Bones and All,” which reunites him with his “Call Me by Your Name” star Timothee Chalamet. Chalamet stars opposite Taylor Russell in the love story, and the film is expected to premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September.

Before he can celebrate, however, he has one more week of shooting for “Challengers,” a love triangle set in the world of professional tennis that pairs Guadagnino with an enticing trio of up-and-comers: Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, and “West Side Story” breakout Mike Faist.

“I think audiences will come back for the right movies,” Guadagnino said during a weekend conversation with the one and only John Waters, as he took a break from shooting in Boston to accept the Provincetown International Film Festival’s Filmmaker on the Edge award and introduce his documentary “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams.”

Though he was careful to thank Netflix for releasing “Beckett,” a Greece-set thriller from Italian filmmaker Ferdinando Cito Filomarino that he produced, he made it clear we won’t be seeing any Guadagnino-directed films on the platform anytime soon.

“I don’t want to be rude to the people at Netflix, it’s not exactly my cup of tea,” he said. “The problem is how the movie becomes something that stays in time. My only fear about the streamers is that if there is not a theatrical release of it that makes the movie something that exists in actual reality, it gets lost. To go straight to streaming is like straight to video days.”

The boisterous auteur and impassioned cinephile is very confident about the future of the cinematic experience, noting in a post-conversation interview with IndieWire his enthusiasm over the massive success of Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which was so original and inventive that it drew new audiences in and kept them coming back for more. He also told IndieWire he puts his money where his mouth is, having recently paid to see “Top Gun: Maverick” in theaters. As far a what he has loved lately, he singled out David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future” and Dea Kulumbegashvili “Beginning” as “masterpieces.”

Though details about “Challengers” are being kept under wraps, Guadagnino promised a “completely different film” from “Bones and All,” describing it as “a fairly fizzy, sexy movie about the world of tennis.” Asked whether “Challengers” would be queer, he replied with a twinkle: “It’s me, so.” Though the film’s main actors aren’t openly queer, Zendaya is beloved for her tomboyish “Euphoria” character Rue, and O’Connor rose to prominence with Francis Lee’s gay farmhand romance “God’s Own Country.”

Luca Guadagnino John Waters
Luca Guadagnino and John Waters at the 2022 Provincetown Film FestivalMae Gammino/PIFF

Unsurprisingly, Guadagnino doesn’t care much for the discourse around straight actors playing gay, a criticism that has occasionally been leveled at “Call Me by Your Name.”

“I try not to be part of any part of any kind of mainstream discourse. If you are not part of it then you can do whatever you want,” he said. “I think the topic is idiotic. Because actors are asked to act. And [Bernardo] Bertolucci always said, ‘My movies are films about the characters played by the actors, and I also secretly make a documentary about the actors playing the characters.’ You know, the movie has to reveal something about the people in front of the camera while these people are trying to hide in character. So I think the idea that you have to cast only people that are that thing is strange.”

Though he stays about the fray of mainstream discourse, especially social media, unlike many filmmakers, Guadagnino is an avowed lover of film criticism. His childhood dream was to be either a filmmaker or a film critic.

Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell star in Luca Guadagnino’s “Bones and All."
Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell star in Luca Guadagnino’s “Bones and All”Yannis Drakoulidis

“I have an admiration for those who write about cinema, when they are good of course, and the way in which a reflection on a movie can in a way make a movie be a different movie,” he said, singling out the late French film critic Serge Daniel. “Before the digital revolution, movies were in the memory of the film critics, they couldn’t g back to watch them and review instantly, so it was morphing in the passage of knowledge from critic to critic to reader. To me, film criticism is an art and it’s so important. I love to read critics, and I also love when a critic is a bad critic on my work, if it’s intelligent.”

For whatever reason, his work has been more warmly received in the United States than in his home country of Italy, so he’s used to both bad and good reviews. Internationally, there’s no doubt that “Call Me by Your Name” is his biggest hit, and he receives love, fan mail, and fervent calls for a sequel.

“I get some beautiful work from fans,” he said. “I have a wonderful needlework of the peach.”

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