Call Me by Your Name: Guadagnino’s Lesson to Everyone

Who has not been there? It does not really matter who you fall for. Older or younger, man or woman. It is first love.

This is not another late review of the movie directed by Luca Guadagnino ‘Call Me by Your Name’, but rather the analysis of the great success that brought him this far to the Academy Awards.

Nemo propheta in patria

Guadagnino did not have a glittering start of career. Indeed, in Italy, he has never been forgiven for his second movie, ‘Melissa P.’ (2005), a lazy cinematographic transposition of the novel about a teenage girl’s first approach to sexuality named ‘100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed’. Despite the good box office, the comments by the critics and the audience were ferocious, up to the point that even the author of the original book, Melissa Panarello, distanced herself from the film. 

This debut represented an original sin that was hard to get rid of. Nevertheless, Guadagnino would later demonstrate his ability to tell stories about desire and passion with ‘The Bigger Splash’ (2015) and ‘I Am Love’ (2009), the first two chapters of his desire trilogy concluded by ‘Call Me by Your Name’. 

The first one was almost snubbed by both the Italian public and critics. On the contrary, it was a big hit overseas, where the director immediately earned attention and acclaim. Nemo propheta in patria, as they said, guess where, in anscient Rome. Maybe, the Italian prejudice towards his first disgraced movies did not follow him abroad. Anyhow, let’s get back to ‘Call Me by Your Name’, or should I say, to its troubled production process and the actual merits of Guadagnino. 

Call Me by Your Name

The movie is an adaptation of the namesake novel by André Aciman. The producers, Peter Spears and Howard Rosenman, optioned the book in 2007, after reading the final draft just before its publication. James Ivory was called as executive producer, then Guadagnino was entrusted with the task of finding the locations in Bordighera, on the famous Ligurian Riviera evoked in the novel. At the beginning, he was not supposed to become the director of the movie, as he was already committed to the realization of ‘A Bigger Splash’. Thus, the producers tried to hire Ferzan Özpetek, Gabriele Muccino, Sam Taylor-Johnson earlier, but the shooting could not start. In 2014, Guadagnino became the producer and asked Ivory to write hand-in-hand the adaptation script. Ivory, who was already used to writing similar stories such as ‘Maurice’ (1987), adapted from the novel released posthumously about a love story between two boys during the Victorian age, accepted.

As Guadagnino remarks, they began to write the storyline in his house in Crema even before the signing of the contract, together with the editor Walter Fasano. The script writing was completed by Ivory and, with the approval of Aciman, the shooting began and Guadagnino was finally convinced to direct the movie. 

The hand of Guadagnino

Then, Guadagnino started his great job by selecting the best possible crew. First, he confirmed the above mentioned video editor Fasano, who had also contributed to the storyline and worked with Guadagnino from his first movie. In addition, the Director of Photography, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, provided an exotic and international tone to the Lombardy countryside. Indeed, more for production rather than for direction reasons, Guadagnino decided to move the action from Bordighera to Crema. Not for nothing, this region is more familiar for Guadagnino. There, he could exploit his contacts with the so-called Pro Loco, the Italian organization promoting the local areas, and the reduced costs due to the lower shooting demand. 

It is important to remember that the budget of the movie was limited to some 3 million dollars. Not a very high amount, compared with bigger productions such as ‘Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri’, with over ten million dollars earmarked.

Thus, Guadagnino took advantage of his direction and production experience to achieve the best possible outcome. Generally, in Italy, the work of producer is portrayed as anything other than positive, clipping the wings of directors’ creativity for mere economic purposes. Sometimes this acutally happens everywhere, but we should not forget cases like ‘Cinema Paradiso’. The producer Franco Cristaldi cut the movie, dubbed some scenes and shortened it up to turn it into the international masterpiece capable of winning an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

First love

So, who is Guadagnino in the end? A great producer, a great director or a great artist? None of that or maybe all of the above. Surely, Guadagnino is a great professional. Because he was able to successfully carry out a difficult and controversial movie, emphasizing the most universal subject of the plot, the first love. Who has not been there? It does not really matter who you fall for. Older or younger, man or woman. It is first love.

Also, he is a great professional because he has learnt over the years to choose the right people, assistants and collaborators. He has always picked the right actors, even if the public used to see the interpreters distant from the assigned roles. He is a great professional because he has always been working with intellectual honesty in every single movie. And where someone found his end point in ‘Melissa P.’, he found a starting point and self-produced ‘I am love’. 

Good luck, Luca!

Finally, with this last movie, he completed his personal tour that started from the USA to come back home in Italy. ‘Call Me by Your Name’ travelled the World, opened in theaters and received prizes such as the BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay, besides the prestigious Golden Globes and Oscar nominations. 

So come on, Luca! Good luck for these Academy Awards. There is a lot of competition, but here in Italy we all support you and your crew.