Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2022 10:59 pm 
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Almost enchanted, one still asks "Why?"

Luca Guadagnino's new film Bones and All is dangerous to describe because if it succeeds at all it's unclassifiable. The director here films a kind of teen romance road picture, featuring a girl, Maren (Taylor Russell) and a boy, Lee (Timothée Chalamet), who are cannibals. Fine young ones? I don't know. There is a big part of them that wants to be just people, though that of course is impossible. Their dilemma encourages us to identify or at least sympathize with them. Their world is in flux. They don't know who they are or where they're going from one minute to the next. The best aspect of this often disturbing and distasteful film is an authentic sense of danger and unpredictability, the excitement of youth at risk. If Guadagnino can keep the action on the screen feeling strange and unpredictable, it may feel real.

That said, it's disappointing that a major monkey wrench in the well oiled romance is the appearance before Maren and Lee even meet, but after Maren's father (André Holland) has skipped out on her leaving her, age eighteen now, to fend for herself, of Mark Rylance in full-bore character mode as folksy (but creepy) older cannibal Sully. Sully is explanatory. He informs the newly-on-her-own Maren they refer to themselves as "eaters," that the need will only grow as she ages; they can go for long periods without, but they will always need to dine again. He also points out that they can smell each other. Consuming a whole human "bones and all" is a special treat. He has his own rules. He does not kill, or he says not. Eaters do not eat eaters, or at least by his rules they don't.

Rylance is a great actor and delivering such conversation in cornpone tones must have been a pleasure for him, but it distances us, whereas Maren and Lee have their own specificity and, yes, humanness.

For followers of Guadagnino there are points of contact to begin with. Timothée Chalamet was the linchpin of the director's most appealing and successful film, Call Me by Your Name. There are a few brief but memorable moments involving Chloe Sevigny, as Maren's mother, whom she has never known, and now tracks down: Sevigny figures prominently in the director's engaging, enveloping one-season HBO series, "We Are Who We Are." It also seems as if Taylor Russell is akin somehow to Jordan Kristine Seamón as Caitlin in "We Are Who We Are," who enters into a sort-of-but-not teen romance in the series. Guadagninino again shows a penchant for teen experience, this time not misfit schoolkids, but a sort-of Bonnie and Clyde.

It might be tempting to say cannibalism is just incidental in Bones and All, or a stand-in for something else - being a misfit, addict, foreigner, gay - except for the considerable amount of gore we see in this film. In making the compulsive, bloody lust to consume human flesh and blood intense and vivid, the film stands with the best of them. It makes the ugly act more real. This in spite of the fact that, as David Rooney puts it in his Hollywood Reporter review, Guadagnino is "far less interested in the shock factor" than in "the poignant isolation of his young principal characters and the life raft they come to represent to one another..." That doesn't mean the shock factor isn't there. But our identification with the "poignant isolation," condemned to live wrong as dangerous, forbidden enfants maudits, a tragic and romantic situation we're rudely awakened from when a new scene of gore bursts with shock onto the screen. "Twilight" is one of the many implied references, but these rootless cannibals seem sadder than suburban middle class vampires whose pallor so much becomes them.

Taylor Russell is a new face and it's hard to define her or her character except to say she fits so seamlessly we accept her. The device is used of a cassette tape her father leaves her that plays through half the movie, where he describes their life together, how he protected her (running from one identity and location to the next like the revolutionary fugitive family in Lumet's Running on Empty), but can't do it anymore.

Lee, Chalamet's character, comes with something of a family life, including a sister who reproaches him for too often being away. Chalamet is, to his advantage, deglamorized here. True, when the falling sunlight is at a good angle, his reddened hair is fluffed and his profile is turned the right way and the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score soars, he's a perfect gutter pretty boy. But dp Arseni Khachaturan's camera isn't always friendly to him, shows wrinkles and strain, his mouth is twisted, and Chalamet becomes the most interesting character he's ever played.

Many would agree with what A.O. Scott says in his New York Times review, that Bones and All is "a ragged hybrid of genres and styles, an elevated exploitation movie, a succession of moods." You might say that's always true when horror or genre are done well. The difference from some examples, like, say, Near Dark, is it all seems less a lark, and nothing is a laughing matter here.

Guadagnino takes himself very seriously, which may seem a bit much. But after being softened up by thoroughly loving Call Me by Your Name like almost everybody else, I became a fan binge-watching and binge-repeating the eight very rich hours of "We Are Who We Are." Those hours have showed how satisfyingly detailed and empathic this filmmaker's sense of a world can be and how much he cares. That explains how seriously he takes these young cannibals, and I thank him for that. I also became aware of his use of music. Music is so important in "We Are Who We Are" the whole final episode is devoted to Fraser and Caitlin's attending a concert by the composer of the series' score, Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange. There are several splendid musical moments this time too, and the Reznor/Ross score is powerful without ever seeming to intrude.

It's also worth commenting how somehow it appears this movie effectively manages to use the environs of Cincinnati to create the feel of eight or ten different states, a brilliant stay-at-home road picture effect, with memorable seedy interiors by Khachaturan and the set dressers throughout. Guadagnino is fascinated with trailer park Americans - a tradition, like the trailer park RV vampire killers in Kathryn Bigelow's 1987 B picture classic Near Dark, which has been billed as a Western.

I still can't help asking: Why? But I think the answer is there somewhere. I ask that more pointedly for Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day, because this is a better movie, its principal characters easier to almost-like.

Bones and All, 130 minutes, debuted September 2, 2022 at Venice. It was shown also at Telluride, Zurich, Austin, Bergen, Vienna, Brisbane, São Paulo, Leiden, Taipei, Stockholm, and other international festivals. It was presented in the Spotlights section of the NYFF. Metacritic rating: 72%. Limited US theatrical release Nov. 18, 2022.


"Bones and All is a ragged hybrid of genres and styles, an elevated exploitation movie, a succession of moods — anxious, horny, dreamy, sad — in search of a metaphor. Or maybe the metaphor is obvious. Neither raw nor fully cooked, it might make you lose your appetite, but it’s more likely that you’ll still be hungry when it’s over." - A.O. Scott.

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