The new film by Italian director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By your Name) brings to the screen the eponymous novel by Camille DeAngelis narrating the journey of two young lovers of flesh in the deep America of the 1980s. Despite the chemistry of its two main interpreters – Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet –, the film ends quickly by standing still, prisoner of a tasteless mix of genres and a numb staging.
Four years after the insane and bizarre remake of Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)Luca Guadagnino signs a new feature film which, if it is not a remake strictly speaking, immediately displays his desire to “digest” – like his atypical characters of cannibals wandering through the Midwest American – a bunch of cinematic influences.
The Italian director, crowned with the Silver Lion for directing at the last Venice Film Festival, is familiar with the exercise; even more, his cinema seems to rely largely on this faculty of incorporation, mixing with more or less audacity a multiplicity of cinematographic influences, from the assumed remake – likeAt Bigger Splash, adapted from The swimming pool (1969) by Jacques Deray – to more or less well distilled references.
Of Call Me By Your Name (2017) to the series We Are Who We Are (HBO, 2020), Luca Guadagnino has visibly set as his hobby horse the portrait of an incandescent youth navigating between norms, embodied by individuals seeking their place in the world and in perpetual quest for identity.
This is still the case with Bones and All, built around newcomer Taylor Russell, who left the Mostra with the Mastroianni prize for best hope. The young Canadian actress plays Maren, a high school student living alone with her father (André Holland) and inhabited by a strange cannibal impulse. where the characters of We Are Who We Are were very literally homeless (the plot revolves around a group of teenage sons and daughters of American expatriates, in a military base in Veneto), Maren is also homeless because of his irrepressible taste for the flesh, living in spite of itself on the margins of society, tossed from a young age from one state to another alongside a distraught father figure.
Without ties or real home, Maren therefore constantly replays an adaptation doomed to failure, as evidenced by the image that could not be more hackneyed of the high school American at the start of the film, a sequence immediately placed under the auspices of fantasy and horror with these rows of blood-red lockers summoning the work of Stephen King.
In her flight across America to try to shed light on her past, Maren will cross paths with other more or less sympathetic similarities – the incursion of the horrifying register passing here through the distinction between “eaters” and “non-eaters” – and will go a long way with one of them, Lee, played by a Timothée Chalamet in a role that could not be more tailor-made (the panoply of the clueless vampire proto, with a neglected style and Kiss fan sticks to him very literally to the skin) and therefore without taking any real risk.
The “eaters” recognize each other without saying a word, by their olfactory faculty alone, wandering incognito among the living like vampires in perdition – or junkies lacking, depending on the reading level. This is what leads Maren to meet Sully, a more experienced “eater” played by Mark Rylance (Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for The Bridge of Spies), who delivers here a laughable performance by dint of overplaying this crazy and unhealthy prowler; and again, that’s nothing compared to the caricatural antics of his peers, Michael Stuhlbarg (in redneck filthy and bloodthirsty) and Chloë Sévigny.
Only Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet come out of it more or less unscathed, navigating as best they can within a film that never knows which foot to dance on and brings back ultimately the strange tendency of his characters to the inevitable imprint of trauma (the absence of a mother, the loss of love of a father, etc.).
Only eaters left alive
So much for the beginnings of Bones and All, hybrid film juggling rather clumsily with the genres it claims. Luca Guadagnino’s staging quickly finds itself short-circuited by an overflowing goodwill, betrayed by the filmmaker’s application to pay polite homage to horror cinema; witness the tons of hemoglobin spilled (in France, the film is prohibited for children under 16), thus decking out his feature film with a vintage layer that is certainly well made – thanks in particular to its night scenes conveying the codes ( fog, contrasts, cast shadows, zooms, etc.) of 1980s horror cinema – but far too inconsistent, because strictly mimetic.
This filiation covers a screenplay (by David Kajganich, already at work on A Bigger Splash and Suspiria) of a road-movie of emancipation that is ultimately very agreed, or the wandering of two young marginal beings crossing rural America aboard their pick-up, spinning hand in hand towards an uncertain end, barely a blink of an eye veiled in Bonnie & Clyde (1967) by Arthur Penn or even to the murderous lovers of The Wild Stroll (1973) by Terrence Malick.
By thus resting on the reminiscence of other cinemas, Guadagnino deprives his film of any singularity. Its inspirations never add up in a convincing way and the film settles quite quickly in its soft belly, as if convinced of its own audacity, one genre successively taking precedence over the other. When the film switches fully into the road-movie, the beauty of the landscapes crossed is a must, in this case contaminated by an avalanche of pop songs just as damaging as the uninspired soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Unlike films such as Walrus (Tomas Alfredson) Where Severe (Julia Ducournau), the heavy image of cannibalism – what it says about the relationship to the body, to sexuality, etc. – is never really supported by Guadagnino. It is only for aesthetic amusement, for the pure pleasure of metaphor in order to embellish an inconsistent scenario and hastening the resolution of its meager stakes in a botched last act. Despite its enticing program, Bones and All definitely leaves us hungry.
Bones and All, by Luca Guadagnino, 2h10, with Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland and Chloë Sevigny. In theaters November 23, 2022.