Luca Guadagnino is very much the old-fashioned romantic. Into his 50s, the director still seems infatuated by incredibly tender stories of ravishing intimacy, heady idealism, and especially in his American work on television and film, the pure, tumultuous emotional extravagance of living while young. His 2019 television HBO show, We Are Who We Are, consisted of 8 episodes all titled Right Here, Right Now, correspondingly numbered. That sense of passionate urgency is slathered all over his idyllic Call Me By Your Name, finding its way into his psychosexual midlife crisis film A Bigger Splash and becoming fully realised in his electrifying cannibal drama, Bones and All.
Renewed is his collaboration with Timotheé Chalamet, a new screen icon with perhaps the greatest cultural capital in the arthouse, a crystallised personality representing a new, amorous masculinity on screen that has never been more succulent than it is here as rugged man-of-the-road Lee. For sceptical readers, I hope that the manipulative appeal that peak-Chalamet invokes is sufficient. With Bones and All, Chalamet has fully become, if he wasn’t already, a certified homme fatale. The film itself is a dangerous, rapturously emotional odyssey that finds the heart central to Guadagnino’s cinema ripped out and laid to lie naked in the sweltering expanse of the American south. One criticism the film has had during its festival circuit in fact has been its lack of actual nakedness despite the NC-17 rating, but I’d argue that no amount of peculiar peach-esque sexual encounters that you might expect in a Guadagnino film could hold a candle to the sadness imbued into every scene of feeding in Bones and All. The awkwardness in some of Call Me By Your Name’s more graphic moments of sexual exploration and experimentation is instead in Bones and All an ugly resignation to barbarism charged with immense pathos and ethical conflict. It’s truly heartbreaking, in a totally different manner. There’s profound confusion in the hearts of Guadagnino’s young protagonists, identities literally forming and deforming in this new ravenous psychodrama. Guadagnino is again operating in melodrama, but the implications of that drama are now physical, mortal, and gross. The gore in Bones and All isn’t the freakish fantasy that it is in Guadagnino’s Suspiria; it is contemplative, human, and utterly depressive. The closest sister to the film is in fact Julia DucCournau’s coming of age drama Raw, and while Bones and All doesn’t quite have the thematic grasp on the flesh that Raw’s allegorical gore picture does, it shares its corporeal ugliness and its sorrowful angst. Taylor Russell and Timotheé Chalamet are an irresistible pairing on screen, but the film also boasts a rogue’s gallery of scene-stealers that the two encounter on their road trip who give the film a tangible sense of journey and scope. Mark Rylance gives a performance so bizarre and genuinely unsettling that in my notes for the film, I would simply write in capital letters “SULLY!!!” in a mix of enthusiasm and terror whenever he appeared on screen. The strangeness of these various characters keeps the film fresh as it travels further and further into its existentialist dread, even providing frequent laughs amidst Guadagnino’s largely woeful tale of romance and tragedy.
The film’s first teaser trailer plays out largely without dialogue, employing the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s relentlessly bleak You Want It Darker to soundtrack Arseni Khachaturan’s arresting, Badlands-inflected imagery. Within those words lies the morbid heart of Bones and All, and given I’m essentially avoiding any plot details (the film’s second trailer revealing far too much of the story, including one of the film’s very finest scares), this is the only way I believe that one can distil the magical experience of Bones and All while preserving its numerous surprises, as a romance set in the heart of a moral apocalypse.
“I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim, you want it darker, we kill the flame” – Leonard Cohen
Bones and All arrives in UK cinemas on the 23rd of November.
Edited by Lydia Leung, Film & TV Head Editor