Luca Guadagnino almost never made Bones and All. Writer David Kajganich read Camille DeAngelis’s novel and wanted Guadagnino to direct the screen adaptation, but he wasn’t available and perhaps not all that interested. When the original director, Antonio Campos, dropped out, Kajganich went back to Guadagnino, reminded him of the script and gently pushed him in that direction, telling him that he might find the leading characters appealing if he gave them a chance. Guadagnino read the script and saw things Kajganich’s way. Now this film seems like an obvious fit for Guadagnino, the man who gave us the intensely romantic Call Me by Your Name (2017) and the horrifying Suspiria (2018).
Cannibalistic attacks in her past
When Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) turns 18 in 1980s Virginia, she’s abandoned by her father. Her mother left her a long time ago and the duo have been on the run for quite some time, after a bloody incident involving another teenage girl. Maren’s father has always known that she’s a very special girl, ever since she at the age of three killed and partially ate her babysitter. There would be other cannibalistic attacks over the years.
But now Maren is on her own. Her first encounter with another cannibal happens in Columbus, Ohio, where she meets Sully (Mark Rylance), a lonely, elderly man who tells her that he knew she was an ”eater” because of her scent. After telling her about his experiences as a cannibal, they both eat from the body of a woman that Sully knew. The next morning, Maren quickly moves on and goes to Indiana where she meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet), another ”eater”; they decide to travel together.
Not for all tastes
Not that many films find a way to fuse cannibalism with a heartfelt romance and a road movie, but Bones and All is very successful at that. This is definitely not for all tastes. As I left the press screening, there was a puzzled look on some of the attendees, and yes, this isn’t for the squeamish. Not really a horror film per se, because it isn’t out to frighten you or come across as terrifying, this is above all a melancholically romantic portrait of young love and the search for fulfillment in life.
There’s a lot of symbolism here that speaks to the all-consuming nature of love.
Still, the cannibalism is nauseating and the filmmakers never hold back when it comes to blood and flesh-eating. Cannibals are presented as a variation on vampires, a special kind of breed who can smell each other out and suffer from a hunger that can only be satisfied by human flesh. The act of eating another human is more than just a meal; there’s an intensity to it that goes beyond any other sensation. There’s a scene in the film where Maren and Lee meet a pair of fellow cannibals who tell them about something they’ve never heard of before: the process of completely devouring someone, ”bones and all”. Disgusting to you perhaps, an act of dedication and commitment to someone else. There’s a lot of symbolism here that speaks to the all-consuming nature of love, secrets that lovers may share and the confusion of entering adulthood.
Russell and Chalamet are great together, vulnerable, sweet and also deadly to anyone in their presence; as expected, their characters eventually find it hard to justify their bloodthirst. Rylance is also very good as the pathetic Sully, a man whose warning signs are the loudest thing about him.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s low-key theme on guitar is a beautiful asset to a film whose road-movie trappings reminded many of Badlands (1973). As you make your way out of the theater, a nice meal is the furthest thing on your mind… but many of you will also be quite moved, and that’s an achievement.
Bones and All 2022-U.S.-Italy-U.K. 130 min. Color. Produced by Timothée Chalamet, Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Lorenzo Mieli, Marco Morabito, Gabriele Moratti, Theresa Park, Peter Spears. Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Screenplay: David Kajganich. Novel: Camille DeAngelis. Music: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross. Cast: Taylor Russell (Maren Yearly), Timothée Chalamet (Lee), Mark Rylance (Sully), André Holland, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Gordon Green… Jessica Harper, Chloë Sevigny.
Venice: Best Director.
Last word: “We were very focused on making sure that the practice of eating [human flesh] was met with a strong sense of reality. But I think that cannibalism, at least for me, wasn’t the point of this ever. It’s about the impossibility of escaping your own self and your identity. And, at the same time, the aim for a possibility that soothes your soul in a way and makes you meet the other. The cannibalism is more about being someone who has a condition that is inescapable.” (Guadagnino, Slant Magazine)