If you’ve never heard of Italian director Luca Guadagnino — who will receive the Filmmaker on the Edge award this Sunday at the Provincetown International Film Festival — you are not alone, even among avid moviegoers.
Even so, it’s quite possible you’ve seen one of his films. Many of them have arisen from Guadagnino’s artistic partnership with Tilda Swinton, who starred in his 1999 debut feature, The Protagonists, about Italian filmmakers documenting a murder in London, and in his breakout 2009 film, I Am Love, in which she played the Russian-born wife of a Milanese industrialist who is emotionally suffocating in her adopted upper-class milieu. Swinton went on to star in Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash in 2015 as a rock star vacationing with her lover on the isolated Italian island of Pantelleria, and, most recently, in Guadagnino’s 2018 revamp of Suspiria, in which psychological horror engulfs a dance company. Swinton prefers a working relationship that is highly collaborative, and she and Guadagnino are close; his first visit to Provincetown, he says, was in 2010, when Swinton received an Excellence in Acting award at the film festival here, on the heels of I Am Love.
Besides the numerous shorts and documentaries that Guadagnino has directed in his 25-year career, not to mention the eight-episode HBO series We Are Who We Are, perhaps his most celebrated effort is Call Me by Your Name, the provocative gay love story between a 17-year-old professor’s son (Timothée Chalamet) and his father’s research assistant (Armie Hammer), who are summering together in a northern Italian villa.
If Guadagnino’s low public profile is due to his not having a signature directorial style, that’s OK with him. “I choose not to have a style,” he says, chatting by Zoom with the Independent. “The language that a movie speaks is more important than the style. It needs to be understood in its individuality. I never start with the mise-en-scène,” Guadagnino adds, referring to the way the camera visually articulates the space in which a drama unfolds. “I start with the people.”
Many of the people in Guadagnino’s films are grappling with thwarted but irrepressible sexuality — think of what Chalamet does to that peach in Call Me by Your Name. It’s no surprise, then, that Guadagnino is a huge fan of festival stalwart John Waters, whom he’ll join in conversation at the awards presentation at Provincetown Town Hall on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
“I grew up learning his lessons,” Guadagnino says of Waters. “He is a sublime master of what cinema means in terms of provoking. He wants to find discomfort in entertainment. He makes you laugh, but not a consoling laugh — an acid laugh. In a world where we always have to conform to some sort of norm, John Waters has never belonged to a norm of any kind. He is a pioneer, before independent cinema was mummified into a kind of genre.”
The festival’s special closing night screening (Sunday at 6 p.m. at Town Hall) is the North American premiere of Guadagnino’s newest film, the documentary Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams. It’s a biographical portrait of Salvatore Ferragamo, the shoe designer who came from poverty in Italy to Hollywood in the 1920s, making shoes for the studios and the stars, then returned to Italy and built his company into a fashion giant. The movie presents Ferragamo as a Renaissance man: he analyzed the anatomy of the foot and the structure and materials of the shoe in order to create footwear that was comfortable, durable, and attractive.
“He was lured to America by his brothers, only to discover mass production,” Guadagnino says. “Landing in Hollywood, a place that doesn’t exist, he utilized its dream logic to up his skills. He learned what it means to have a public image.”
Guadagnino is fascinated by the fashion world. “It’s an ever-changing industry, like the cinema,” he says. “It makes billions, pollutes the world, and creates a need out of what you do not need. Yet you have great personalities, like Balenciaga. Creative minds who subvert the idea of self. It’s a beautiful contradiction.”
Spoken like a true Filmmaker on the Edge.
The event: “Conversations With Honorees”: John Waters interviews Filmmaker on the Edge Luca Guadagnino; Thelma Adams interviews acting honoree Dale Dickey
The time: Sunday, June 19, 12:30 p.m.
The place: Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St.
The cost: $30 or free with festival pass