Peach trees dripping plump jewels, rushed morning espressos in a sleepy piazza, wild swimming, sun-caked mud baths, bike rides down country lanes and dizzying drives around a black volcanic island. The scenes have two things in common: Luca Guadagnino’s movies and Italian summers. The former currently serving as a reminder that the latter is just around the corner.
Like a shot of vitamin D, Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love, Call Me By Your Name and A Bigger Splash bring the colour back to my cheeks. Bursting off the screen, vivid spurts of juicy green, impassioned red and earthy tones paint the perfect picture of a summer spent in Italy. It’s almost enough for a sun tan to watch the settings of Guadagnino’s most sexually-charged romps.
From the burnt and blistered landscape of Pantelleria in A Bigger Splash to the green scapes of Northern Italy in Call Me By Your Name and San Remo in I Am Love, the colours captured and then projected from the screen are those of summers spent across Italy. Watched even on mute, a sense of the heady joy of an Italian summer explodes from these movies.
Take for example I Am Love, a film that begins in deepest winter in Milan which sees Tilda Swinton’s character, Emma, fall for her son’s friend, a chef that wins her over with his brooding looks and a plate of gamberetti (which also happens to sing with colour as a spotlight illuminates it from above). As the affair progresses and Emma sees her temptation through by following Antonio to his country escape in San Remo, the greys of Milan and the stark white of the snow give way to a kaleidoscope of wildflowers and a verdant landscape that almost reverberates around their bodies as they live out their fantasies in the undergrowth.
Emma’s orange dress with its open back almost begs to be ripped off, as she climbs a hill, breathing heavily, to finally take in the view of the undulating landscape. We feel the heat as she slips out of her cardigan. This urgent necessity to cool down amidst searing inner torment also goes for moments in Call Me By Your Name. Elio reads music whilst in the pool, plays his guitar in the shade, escapes for an afternoon siesta in the midday heat. In A Bigger Splash, Guadagnino ramps up the tension, taking Paul and Penelope away from the cool of the aquamarine pool and onto a scorching hike across the arid landscape of Pantelleria, each sweltering step indicative of a sexual undercurrent between the two of them.
“I always wanted Pantelleria for the film, the island embodies a very dangerous sense of otherness and natural urgency that creates another level of conflict with the characters,” Guadagnino said of choosing that location for a film fraught with sexual tension.
“I wanted to have this impossibly strong force of Pantelleria against the incredibly strong conflict of these four private people, so they are facing not only their own conflict but also the powerful and unpredictable otherness of the island. The rocks there are dark, almost black from the volcanic activity, and the winds are legendary and powerful; the most famous known as the hot scirocco that blows in from Africa.”
The locations chosen for each of the films embody a different aspect of an Italian summer – the extreme heat of Pantelleria (closer to Africa than it is to Italy) in A Bigger Splash, the blossoming richness and verdant countryside of the hills of San Remo in I Am Love and the idiosyncratic charm of a historic town (Crema, an hour out of Milan) in Call Me By your Name.
While the town of Crema in Lombardia offers a quintessential Italy with 14th century cathedrals and aristocratic mansion homes like that of Elio’s family, San Remo is a contrast to cosmopolitan Milano and its aristocratic families – it’s the rural escape Emma (I Am Love) dreams of. It’s the rural escape most of us dream of. Then Pantelleria, wild, rugged and unyielding, is the place that we’d all like to experience but wouldn’t be able to handle year round. It’s an island that lends itself to summer holidays. Still, Guadagnino’s mastery lies in painting all of Italy in its most beautiful technicolours. Even his depiction of Pantelleria – an island with no beaches – makes us ache for summer in Italy.
That’s why I’m on a Guadagnino binge currently. The trickle of perspiration on tanned skin, the ripe peaches, the hefty bowls of pasta, backless dresses and the promise of a summer fling. It’s all in Guadagnino’s films. It’s all just ahead of us.