Dressing the decades

Luca Guadagnino on Call Me By Your Name and the art of costuming

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Luca Guadagnino:
Luca Guadagnino: "But what I prefer for myself is to be invisible. To really try to - which is probably the greatest of the artifices - to reconstruct something that is not anymore." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name (Chiamami Con Il Tuo Nome), screenplay by James Ivory, based on the novel by André Aciman, shot by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Guadagnino's upcoming Suspiria), stars Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet with Michael Stuhlbarg, Esther Garrel, and Amira Casar. At the press conference, moderated by New York Film Festival selection committee member Dennis Lim, the director, when I asked him about the work of costume designer Giulia Piersanti, gave a very detailed response.

Luca Guadagnino referenced the work of Milena Canonero on Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, Maurice Pialat's A nos amours, and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and said that he really tried "to reconstruct something that is not any more".

Elio (Timothée Chalamet) with Oliver (Armie Hammer)
Elio (Timothée Chalamet) with Oliver (Armie Hammer)

The majority of Guadagnino's mesmerising tale of first love is set in a beautiful, lived-in, perfectly imperfect villa and its surroundings near a small village in Northern Italy. It is the summer of 1983 and teenage Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his parents are expecting this year's summer guest.

Oliver (Armie Hammer, better than ever) is the chosen graduate student, invited by Elio's professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) to do research with him and enjoy the enchanted place. Conversations in the house and with friends switch effortlessly between English, Italian and French. The peaches ripen on the trees for the taking. Hidden ponds and ancient pools invite to a dip. Guadagnino shows the fascinating dance of seduction, longing, doubt, courage, and excitement, that is as subtle and precise as it is universal.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I loved the costume design. On the one hand it was extremely accurate. The parent's clothes would all be hanging in my parent's closet. And at the same time, Elio's clothes are so nicely between boy and man. Could you talk a little bit about the costumes?

Luca Guadagnino: Thank you. I will tell this to Giulia Piersanti, the costume designer. It was very important for us for the movie not to look period. And for the movie not to look in a way as reflection on the Eighties, the way usually cinema does when it becomes period. You know, it's very difficult to resist the temptation of thinking of a period from our perspective. And to say, okay, our idea of the Eighties. I mean, you see it for instance in a masterpiece of all times, that is 2001 [A Space Odyssey].

Elio's father (Michael Stuhlbarg) with Elio and Oliver makes a discovery at Lago di Garda
Elio's father (Michael Stuhlbarg) with Elio and Oliver makes a discovery at Lago di Garda

And we can't deny the fact that there is a lot of Courrèges and a lot of Sixties futuristic fashion in the way Kubrick and his team put together their idea of 2001. In fact, 2001 wasn't like that when we got there finally. And I respect that. I like that. And another way of making a costume design that is striking and astonishing is like what Milena Canonero did with Dick Tracy - the idea of the cartoon Forties in Hollywood - it's perfect. But what I prefer for myself is to be invisible. To really try to - which is probably the greatest of the artifices - to reconstruct something that is not anymore. But try to be as close to what was it. So we had a lot of research.

One thing we did - Crema [in Lombardia] is a very small village. So we found a possibility to enter in other people's houses and they gave us their pictures of their Eighties. So we had like a big, big book and we discovered a lot. For instance, not all the ladies had big shoulders. Not all the ladies had big hair. This is something that became a sort of canon of the Eighties, a supposition. But that's not exactly how it was. And again, the Maurice Pialat film [A nos amours] was also very guiding because that is a 1983 film.

The director goes on to answer the second part of my question on Elio's transformation through clothes.

Oliver and Elio in the garden with the peach tree
Oliver and Elio in the garden with the peach tree

Luca Guadagnino: I like very much how Giulia indicated where Elio is going at the very end of the movie with this kind of a New Romantic look, like it was very, very, very beautiful. And, you know, sometimes when you work on a movie and you have like 50 people around you, everyone has their own film. And when she showed me this shirt full of faces, looking here and there, I really found that's beautiful because she found this idea that was very strong for him. It was very strong. And it had meaning deeply to put that last image together.

Call Me By Your Name will be released in the UK on October 27 and in the US on November 24.

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