What Luca Guadagnino Is Reading, Watching and Thinking About in Lockdown

The Italian director of Call Me by Your Name is still working, but he only goes outside to retrieve his newspapers.
The Italian director of Call Me by Your Name is still working, but he only goes outside to retrieve his newspapers. Photo: Alessio Bolzoni

We’re in a very unpredictable and unprecedented unraveling. I’m in Milan. I’m in the center of Milan. It’s sort of slo-mo here, like everywhere in the world. Our friends and brothers and sisters in America are at the beginning of where we were two weeks ago: You start to worry for people who are in your country, but you still believe that it’s not going to touch you. Then the thing spreads more. I had some friends from America here in my home on the 22nd of February, when the first two places in Lombardy were called “red zones.” When people left Italy the morning after, it was like, “Oh, strange.” And then, a week later, the thing spread more, and then a week again, it was lockdown.

I’m working, because I’m in post-production on three different projects. I’m doing a show for HBO called We Are Who We Are. I produced a movie directed by Ferdinand Cito Filomarino with John David Washington called Born to Be Murdered. I’m almost finished making a documentary called Salvatore, the Shoemaker of Dreams, on the life of the great shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo. Technology helps a lot, because you can work and give comments while people are doing the same in [their own] isolation. I had a lot of work to do in Sweden and France because my collaborators are there. [Before the lockdown] the sentiment was, “Oh, you guys. We’re sorry for you guys.” And now, look: France is in lockdown, Spain is in lockdown, Austria is in lockdown, Germany is in lockdown. It’s strange to be the first. You cannot see yourself as you’ve always thought of yourself, but at the same time, an ethical sense of responsibility and a sense of communion and collectivity makes you understand that you must do that.

Spring is blooming. I am in my living room, and I have these big windows. I’m lucky because I have a large room and a large house. I see the light coming through the windows, and I see the blossoming leaves and flowers. Usually in spring, you start to go out, you start to experience nature and social life. The city is very empty. I see it from my window.

You realize that it takes a lot of effort to make sure that extreme measures do not derange [us]. To see, somehow, that all of us are doing our job to make sure that everything is managed without derangement, it’s quite touching. It makes you feel probably less alone, being that now it is a shared experience with everybody, with everyone in Italy under this lockdown. And everyone else in the world soon will follow suit. I just got an email from friends in New York that the shops are shutting down, cinemas are shutting down, and so on. I see pictures from cities around the world that are looking the same as Italy. My personal opinion is that it looks a little bit like some futuristic dystopia, like in The Man Who Fell to Earth. It’s a little bit like Omega Man or the end of the great movie by John Carpenter In the Mouth of Madness.

I only go out once a day to buy newspapers. I went to see The Invisible Man in Paris ten or 12 days ago, so that was my last movie in a movie theater. I went to the restaurant maybe the 3rd or 5th of March. That was the last time I had dinner in a restaurant. I am reading a beautiful book by this wonderful professor of international politics called Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou. It’s called A Theory of ISIS: Political Violence and the Transformation of the Global Order. It’s a very great book. I am watching films. I finally got to see Waves, which stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., who I found to be one of the most intelligent actors working today. I like him so much, and it was wonderful to see yet another transformation from him. I’m planning on watching all the movies of the great Taiwanese director Edward Yang.

It’s very important that people understand — that leaders understand — that this is not an Italian problem, as much as it wasn’t a Chinese problem. This is a pandemic, and it will hit hard sooner or later everywhere else. The Chinese Hubei region was two months prior to us, then Korea, then Japan, then Iran, then Italy, and now we are seeing that everywhere else it’s spreading. The worst that can happen is denial, misjudgment, or complacency. We must understand that this is something that regards everywhere and everyone. I think we are all at risk, every one of us.

Yesterday, in the debate that he had with [Bernie] Sanders, Joe Biden said that a national health system basically would not work in America, and pointed to how much it didn’t work in Italy. Sanders says that there has to be a public system of health in America where, right now, the system of health is private and for-profit. I think for someone who is running to be the president of the United States to claim such a devastating inaccuracy is bad. It is thankfully due to the national health system of Italy that we are saving lives and that this thing is being handled. People are being tested instead of being ignored, and people who cannot afford insurance can get into the hospital and pay nothing for it.

It is a serious problem of liberalism around the world in the past 25 years, that has given free rein to the privatization of very crucial services like national health. I don’t want to foresee a serious problem for America, but it seems to me that it will be vulnerable, particularly because the people that are less protected by wealth will face harsh times, and the responses from the government are, to say the least, very minimal. Maybe this will make them wake up. I hope that people understand that the way this virus is working asks us all to do our job and think. This is an invisible enemy.

Am I afraid? I don’t know. I would be more afraid if I was older, to be honest. I’m afraid for the people I love.

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What Luca Guadagnino Is Reading, Thinking About in Lockdown