Want More Luca Guadagnino?

In light of the cinematic success of Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers,” Emily Quintanilla revisits the Perlman family in Northern Italy.

By Emily QuintanillaMay 17, 2024

    Want More Luca Guadagnino?

    In light of the cinematic success of Luca Guadagnino’s new film, Emily Quintanilla revisits the Perlman family in Northern Italy:

    Director Luca Guadagnino has served up a hit. His latest film, Challengers (2024), recently became his top-grossing project, amassing $30 million worldwide in its opening weekend alone. Yet this isn’t Guadagnino’s first masterstroke. Before blessing the big screen with a tense and seductive tennis story featuring fan-favorite Zendaya as prodigy-turned-coach Tashi Duncan, the Italian director and producer was perhaps best known for his work on the Academy Award–nominated film Call Me by Your Name.

    There’s no denying that some aspects of the 2017 film haven’t aged well (google “Armie Hammer controversy” on your own time). Even so, Call Me by Your Name is, like Challengers, quintessentially Guadagnino: the output of a man whose movies, as Manohla Dargis put it in The New York Times, “are sleek divertissements about ravishing people and their often sumptuously rarefied sensibilities and worlds.”

    D. A. Miller explores how these rarefied sensibilities and worlds play out in Call Me by Your Name in an LARB essay from 2018. Miller writes, “The story unfolds one summer at the Perlman family villa ‘somewhere in Northern Italy,’ an Arcadia where we get to realize the dearest dream of every tourist: not being one.” And because the film is set in the early 1980s, the Perlmans are unreachable not only geographically but also temporally. Still, for 132 minutes, Guadagnino allows us a glimpse of what Miller describes as the Perlmans’ world of “cozily domestic” erudition. At the center of this enlightened circle is the precocious 17-year-old Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet—a boy who, as Miller observes, “moves easily between languages, for no apparent reason but to demonstrate that he is as proficient in them.”

    Miller situates Guadagnino’s carefully constructed idea of the “Beautiful Life” at the core of the film. Of course, a life so seemingly idyllic can only be disrupted. Call Me by Your Name follows Elio’s fraught relationship with his father’s 24-year-old research assistant, Oliver; according to Miller, “Elio’s sexual being might rupture the close-knit family circle, and with it, the roundedness of the Beautiful Life, which is the halo around that circle.”

    Revisiting the film that ushered Guadagnino into the spotlight illuminates his enduring interest in the not-so-beautiful, complex, and deeply human side of “rarefied sensibilities and worlds.” Both Call Me by Your Name and Challengers seem to ask the same question: what lies inside these small, ostensibly perfect circles?

    LARB Contributor

    Emily Quintanilla recently graduated from the University of Southern California with a BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. She worked as an LARB copydesk intern during the spring of 2024.


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