Luca Guadagnino on Call Me By Your Name, this year's sensual surprise hit
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Luca Guadagnino on Call Me By Your Name, this year's sensual surprise hit

Made in five weeks on a shoestring budget, this gay love story is already generating Oscars buzz.

Somehow, Luca Guadagnino ensures that it is always summer in his films. The sun dapples the ground through overhanging trees in Sicily or Tuscany – it doesn't matter exactly where – and turns cobblestones white at midday. Peaches ripen lusciously, wine splashes into rustic glasses and pleasure-seekers slide in and out of glittering swimming ponds.

In Call Me By Your Name, the teenage Elio (Timothee Chalamet) falls in love with his professor father's visiting American graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer). You can practically smell the heat as they cycle off into the verdant hills.

It is no exaggeration to say that Call Me By Your Name is the cinematic success story of the year. Guadagnino spent years as its producer, vainly trying to get money for the venerable James Ivory, who co-wrote the script, to direct it with Shia LaBeouf. Eventually, he knew the only way it would get made was if he did it himself. It was shot in five weeks on a shoestring budget in the director's hometown of Crema, just outside Milan. The result has been a festival hit around the world and a hot prospect for the Oscars; it has already garnered three Golden Globe nominations – best drama, best supporting actor for Hammer and best actor for Chalamet.

Lush, romantic and loved by audiences of all sexual persuasions, Call Me By Your Name is, as Hammer has said, a gay romance in which "no one gets AIDS, no one has their personal life destroyed and no one gets lynched". Even Elio's parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) watch the flirtation benignly, keeping a tactful distance, preparing to break their son's fall when heartbreak comes. Love's only enemy is time. They know the summer will end and that Oliver will go back to his university in the United States and to his life, whatever it is.

Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name.

Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name.

Photo: Stefano Dall'Asta
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Guadagnino is gay himself, but the fact that Call Me By Your Name was a gay love story did not matter to him. He compares it to his 2009 film I Am Love, in which an upper-crust wife falls for a chef, seduced by the deliciousness of his food, then is inspired to leave her husband when her daughter reveals she is living happily with a woman, realising that she too can do what she wants.

"That movie is about an older woman learning from a younger person," says Guadagnino. "She is teaching me that I should be. It is about the transmission of knowledge. It is not about identity."

Call Me By Your Name is also about desire as a liberation. "It is about the avenues it leads you through and your capacity to meet this driving force of desire, no matter what its object is," he says. "It can be a man with another man, a woman with another woman, a man with a woman – it is absolutely irrelevant."

Hammer has remarked on Guadagnino's own polymorphous attraction to anything of beauty that catches his eye; he learned not to be bothered, he told Hollywood Reporter, if the sensualist Luca suddenly started stroking the fabric of his trousers. "What is important to say," says Guadagnino, "is that the complete and absolute adherence to your own desires is the way to be a better person."

Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name.

Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name.

Photo: Supplied

Now, that is obviously not true. It is not even true in Guadagnino's life; he fell in love for the first time eight years ago and has been with his partner ever since. At the same time, as Hammer puts it, Guadagnino seems to be in love with everything. He was in love with the villa where he shot the film; he had wanted to buy it for years, but couldn't afford it "so I sublimated the feeling by putting it in the movie".

Lust, by his own admission, also guides his choice of actors. "To be crass, I would say I chose to work with those I felt I could have made a night of love with," he says. "I felt like this about all of them, from Armie to Vanda Capriolo, who plays Mafalda, the cook." Working on Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino has said elsewhere, he learned "that I am capable of loving multiple times with multiple people, but also to be faithful in every sense of the word to the love of my life".

Luca Guadagnino on the set of Call Me By Your Name.

Luca Guadagnino on the set of Call Me By Your Name.

Photo: Supplied

He does love explosions, though. In all his films, love and lust are grenades tossed into the middle of people's lives; the pieces fall where they may. Tilda Swinton's Emma abandons her family in I Am Love; in A Bigger Splash (2015), Ralph Fiennes' boorish but magnetic record producer Harry manages to get under everyone's skin; in Call Me By Your Name, Elio's transition from boy to man takes a sudden turn that will end in tears. Guadagnino always posits love as a disrupter, doesn't he?

"Mmm," he agrees. "I am still like a 15-year-old boy who thinks that his idea is the only way for life to be. And I think 'yes, that is how it is'. Isn't it like that? But it depends if this disruption is welcome or resisted. It is the resistance that creates friction and violence.

Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet have both been nominated for a Golden Globe award.

Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet have both been nominated for a Golden Globe award.

Photo: Supplied

"In this movie it is about unresisting emotion and, even if it is disruptive, it's beautiful and idyllic – probably because it is a green love. It is a bud that is blossoming for the first time and it doesn't have the thickness of the wood. It is just green like a leaf and I think that is why it is sweet. Probably."

Too sweet for some; Guadagnino has been criticised in some quarters for avoiding sex scenes, which he has said he doesn't understand. "It's as if you said there are not enough shots of Shanghai. I don't understand why there has to be Shanghai in this movie." Clearly, he isn't as crass as he claims. For a long time he didn't want to include a scene in the original novel by Andre Aciman where Elio masturbates into a peach, even though he knew it was talismanic for the book's legions of fans.

"Many times I said, 'We have to remove this from the script'. I didn't want something that could be exploitative, sensationalist, or even involuntarily ridiculous." The scene is there now; ever the sensualist, he convinced himself of the moment's integrity by trying it himself.

Guadagnino has just completed his version of Dario Argento's Suspiria, a horror film about a coven of witches. He has said he wants to make a sequel to Call Me By Your Name – but he has also said he wants to make five sequels, so it is hard to know how serious he is. He also says he doesn't want to make a film at all; it is no life for a sybarite.

"If you ask me do you prefer to do a movie or not to do a movie, I prefer not to do a movie," he says. "Because it is not exactly my idea of a nice life. It's a maddening period of time, it's long, it takes a lot of effort, you have to be surrounded by a lot of people, it's just unpleasant. I would much rather stay home and cook."

Call Me By Your Name opens on Boxing Day.

Stephanie Bunbury joined Fairfax after studying fine arts and film at university, but soon discovered her inner backpacker and obeyed that call. She has spent the past two decades flitting between Europe and Australia, writing about film, culture high and low and the arts.

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