Review: Bones and All
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2022: Luca Guadagnino delivers a finger-licking good melodrama that might be this festival’s very best
Luca Guadagnino, a skilled director yet often a bit of a show-off, actually disappears a little in his new film. As a result, Bones and All [+see also:
film profile], screening in competition at the Venice Film Festival, is a shockingly modest, intimate tale of a girl with a secret who has been abandoned twice (Taylor Russell) and is looking for her own kin. Of course, it tends to be explicit at times, as it should be, but after a while, its most headline-grabbing aspect somehow ceases to shock.
There is no point in tiptoeing around it any longer – Guadagnino talks about fine young cannibals here. But instead of a classy video nasty, he delivers the kind of love story that (good) directors used to adore back in the 1970s, a hip cousin to Badlands or Bonnie and Clyde in fashionably torn jeans. Lovers are on the run, once again, from something they cannot escape, from something they are carrying inside.
It’s so many different things, this film: it’s a melodrama, a horror and a road movie, too, and it works as every single one of those genres. There is no chance for this to become another crossover hit like Call Me by Your Name [+see also:
Q&A: Luca Guadagnino
film profile] was, not with these dark undertones and blood smeared all over Russell and Timothée Chalamet’s pretty faces. But it’s still stunning, with Guadagnino looking at Chalamet like Malick used to look at Gere all those years ago: a perfect example of arthouse and genre coming together and eating their way out of predictable festival fare.
Which is not to say there isn’t plenty of weirdness to go around, with Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg testing just how far they can go and then deciding to jump even further. Their roles and their looks (with one delicious cameo that will make horror fans chuckle) are so out there that it would be flat-out ridiculous if it weren’t also sad. While the young couple is soulful and gorgeous, the much older “eaters” are anything but – years of loneliness have left them half-mad and desperate for a connection, sticking to their respective “rules” even though there is no one around to check on them. They just wander around, knowing perfectly well that only violence will offer closeness. For the most part, they seem fine with it.
Still, these two are willing to try something else. It’s a weird tale about accepting the monster within and maybe about that ultimate dream of finding someone who will stay, even when all the secrets are out in the open. Then again, it’s hard to say if love saves here or only destroys.
There is no point in mentioning recent controversies that turned this ambitious project into a tabloid-friendly joke when it was first announced, even though, it needs to be said, the timing was hardly perfect. It just works and it stuns, and celebrates some of those classic American films where it was all about a never-ending trek in search of nothing, the kind of journey that continues simply because it can.
As Russell’s Maren goes from “I thought I was the only one” to a realisation that others are always around, it’s hardly a happy discovery. They are too broken to really teach her how to survive, or how to be happy. But then girl meets boy, and boy munches on someone who clearly deserved it after yelling at a nice mum in a shop. It would be easy to mock, but it’s just too good – so good that the whole thing really does feel romantic.
Then they calmly discuss their “first times” – proving that baby-sitting is never a good gig – or talk about the ultimate experience that creatures like them can enjoy. Of devouring someone completely, bones and all, and there is something almost disturbingly erotic in that concept. If one were to venture into high-school thesis territory, their predicament could be seen as a metaphor for so many things, for people who feel rejected because of their sexuality, race or background, but Guadagnino is too smart to choke anyone with an overly simple message. He just seems to enjoy the beautiful ride, that twisted man, finding salvation in a curse.
Bones and All is an Italian-US co-production staged by Frenesy Film Company and Per Capita Productions, made in association with The Apartment Pictures (a Fremantle company), Memo Films, 3 Marys Entertainment, Ela Film and Tender Stories. International sales are handled by US studios MGM.
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