Luca Guadagnino has an underdog’s needs. After examining the changing shades of desire in his linked “I Am Love”, “A Bigger Splash” and “Call Me by Your Name” he now enters a world of forbidden needs and rips our hearts out. In “Bones and All” the law of desire is both heartbreaking and blood-soaked when two fragile cannibal lovers make an Americana-road trip.
We’re in Ronald Reagan’s 80’s. Maren (Taylor Russell) is a shy teenager who just moved to a small town in Virginia with her poor, protective father (André Holland from “Moonlight”). She’s invited to a new friend’s house for a sleepover, and in an intimate moment bites off a someone’s finger and eats it, and the girl and her father must now leave town yet again. Maren is born a cannibal but doesn’t know how to control herself. When her father abandons her, she decides to find out who she really is and set out to look for her long gone mother (Chloë Sevigny). On the road, crossing many states, believing she’s alone with this particular taste, she meets other “eaters” and falls in love with cool runaway Lee (Timothée Chalamet). Still learning, still horrified, she doesn’t agree with how he feeds his needs.
These two outsiders, two lost souls in a society that would never accept them, are the ultimate symbols of rebellious teenagers trying to find themselves, and each other. Luca Guadagnino, who was born in Sicily’s Palermo to his Algerian mother and Italian father and spent most of his childhood in Ethiopia, now finds himself in small town America. He takes classic coming of age angst and puts it in a bloodily fresh context, but refuses to rely on clichés about young people’s sexual awakening, or just awakening.
Taylor Russell, who made a splash in “Waves”, manages to not only be innocent and sensitive but also wonderfully mysterious. Timothée Chalamet teams up again with Luca Guadagnino after “Call Me by Your Name” and still seems carved out from the 80’s. Unlike his educated, multilingual, middleclass Elio, with supporting parents, he is here a scrappy misfit with dysfunctional spelled out all around him. The camera seems to love his face and body language as he wavers between fragility and attitude and open sexuality (he also picks up a man before eating him) in gender fluid clothes and strands of red hair.
Based on Camille DeAngelis book and adapted by David Kajganich, who also adapted Guadagnino’s nightmarishly mad “Suspiria” and “A Bigger Splash”, “Bones and All” takes us on a dreamy ride, making you think of “Badlands”, “American Honey” and “Let The Right One In”. The cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan (who shot the great Georgian “Beginning”) has a challenging task to balance the lyrical tone with macabre moments. With a production design of diners and houses with floral wallpaper and costumes of shirts with Mona Lisa and fringes, he and Guadagnino pull it off beautifully with a matching score from Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and songs from Duran Duran and Joy Division – and in one highlight scene Chalamet dances to Kiss.
This mix of romance and horror is a daring move for Guadagnino, who won the director award at Venice Film Festival. And in an odd, touching way he makes the impossible possible. These lost kids carry a sort of innocence, even though they enjoy slurping on people’s flesh. Unlike Hannibal Lector’s psychopath, the two just want to survive and get out of the poverty they were born into. There are underlying topics about addiction and compulsion behavior but their special hunger on a hopeless ride is based on a search for love and identity. Their nature of desire – the transformative, harmful and hopeful – is gripping. As in previous films, Guadagnino’s characters are governed by emotions and behaviors, impulses and uncontrolled motives, not by logic and story. The desire and hunger to eat humans becomes in a way the story itself.
One major obstacle on their trip is Mark Rylance, or Sully as his character calls him self in third person – “Sully”s never dully”. He’s a fellow “eater” and Russell meets him early on. He teaches her tricks, like their particular smell for like-minded. This childish, creepy man, with yellow teeth, braids, and a feather in his hat, reads James Joyce’s “Dubliners”, and is a scene-stealer. He returns with his eeriness. Another visitor is Michael Stuhlbarg’s Jake, a longhaired redneck accompanied with his loyal buddy Brad (played by filmmaker David Gordon Green). As in his famous speech in “Call Me by Your Name” Stuhlbarg teaches Chalamet again, this time about the deliciousness of bones and all.
Guadagnino’s infinite appetite for outsiders and flowing visuals is once again made with a tasty bite when his characters search for self-knowledge leads them through desire and needs. Needs that floats on the floor and smell through the screen.
Grade : A-
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Here’s the trailer of the film.