Luca Guadagnino is doing sterling work for the Italian tourist board. After A Bigger Splash turned Pantelleria into 2015’s ultimate summer destination, the director’s new film Call Me By Your Name serves as both bittersweet paean to first love, and vividly coloured tribute to the sumptuous Lombardy countryside where it is set.
Based on the eponymous 2007 novel by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name portrays the exquisitely painful summer of love between Elio, a precociously musical teenager, and Oliver, the handsome American visitor who Elio’s archaeologist father has recruited to help with his work.
While the story has remained largely the same, Guadagnino has made some changes to the setting – moving the action back from 1988 to 1983, and the location from the Liguria seaside to a 17th century mansion near Crema in the Lombardy hills. This decision was inspired by Guadagnino’s knowledge of the area, living as he does between Milan and Crema. “I love the place and I knew the house,” he says. “In fact I wanted to buy the house, but I couldn’t afford it. But I knew that I could do something meaningful there, so I made a film instead.”
This made for effortless location scouting – “Three months before the shoot, I drove my team there and showed them the house and that was it”. His team included production designer Samuel Dehors and set designer Violante Visconti di Modrone – “she does not usually work in cinema but I completely love her taste”. Together the three worked to cultivate an atmosphere of languorous sensuality, iridescent with sunshine and sexual promise. “We created an interior that expressed how this family of intellectuals, of cosmopolitan people, lived in this way.”
The results can be seen both on screen and in a portfolio of images shot by Giulio Ghirardi, a photographer and architect who first worked with Guadagnino in 2015, on a shoot for AnOther Magazine. Since then they have become regular collaborators, in architecture and interior design as well as film. For this project, Ghirardi would visit the set on Sundays, taking advantage of the pauses in the film’s schedule to capture the spaces when they were cleared of actors, crew and cameras.
He enjoyed the two dynamics: “It’s unbelievable to watch the filming in the week, when everything is frantic, perfected in the shortest possible times, in which people come and go in swirls of convulsion and congestion, and then look at the same place where everything has stopped.”
Even shorn of characters, his photographs are primed with feeling, demonstrating the power of setting to manifest emotions. Gleaming gold candlesticks and velvet armchairs bask in the sun streaming in through the windows, peaches ripen on heavily laden trees. Eroticism hangs in the air, each shot seems filled with the energy of Elio and Oliver’s unfurling desire.
For Ghirardi, the process was one of creation as much as record: “Photography is therapeutic. It allows me to assimilate, understand and deepen architecture. The house has not undergone dramatic alterations but subtle changes, not just aesthetically, but in the characters’ motivations and feelings. Documenting this inspired me from other points of view, and helped me understand another world.”
As Call Me By Your Name opens in cinemas and the press tour winds down, the director and photographer are joining forces to work together again, this time as interior designers. “We have a very tight relationship,” says Guadagnino, and Ghirardi agrees. “Luca is a very international but a very Italian person. His vision is decisive, his knowledge is encyclopedic and his curiosity is everywhere. We are in tune in our appreciation of the world.”
Call Me By Your Name is in cinemas now.