Luca Guadagnino is an unapologetic hedonist. The Italian director films erotic fever dreams set in exquisite surroundings.
In his 2009 film I Am Love , Tilda Swinton leaves her husband and their privileged life in Milan for a man half her age. She’s a modern day Emma Bovary who finds sexual and spiritual liberation in a younger lover’s arms. Guadagnino then turned his attention to Ralph Fiennes’ volcanic emotions in 2005's A Bigger Splash. On a Mediterranean island, the director orchestrates two love triangles. Fiennes and Dakota Johnson star as the worst houseguests in cinematic history, responsible for a staggering amount of sexual aggression toward their unsuspecting hosts.
The houses, or, more accurately, the estates where these amatory adventures take place provoke feelings of envy and covetousness in the audience. These property owners and their companions dine al fresco, with the help of servants, usually poolside. In his latest film Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino continues to focus on opulent imagery -- with unrestrained devotion -- and on characters who can afford to indulge in pleasures of the flesh.
While attending this year’s Napa Valley Film Festival, the director spoke over the phone about this approach to filmmaking, saying, “I believe that the practice of utopia is what we need to be doing constantly in our life."
You can easily dismiss this belief with a dash of proletarian scorn -- the stories are just about rich people with enough leisure time to wallow in anguished love affairs. Or you can watch his movies with unguarded emotions, as utopian fantasies that are suffused with nostalgia.