Thomas Flew: Does cinema need saving?
Luca Guadagnino: This is a very complicated question to answer, because it offers many, multiple directions in which to go. The banal, journalistic answer would be: “Of course, it needs to be saved. As with all expressions of art, we need to make sure that as a society, as an industry, and in general as a collective entity, we ensure that the arts are worshipped and protected.”
At the same time, this attitude towards something that needs help – as if cinema is an endangered species that needs to be protected – it’s a sort of a myopic perspective to me, because despite the fact that I am fiercely active in making sure that I and everyone around me understands the importance of cinema, cinema in itself doesn’t need to be saved because cinema is an entity that existed before us and will always exist after us.
What or who gives you hope for the future?
It’s not intended as a sycophantic answer, but the fact that Sight and Sound is still publishing after almost 100 years gives me hope, because it takes a lot of effort to keep alive a neglected instrument like a magazine, and to do so at the level which you do.
At the same time, I would say great filmmakers that I see emerging every day. It’s not a mystery that I have been enchanted and blessed by the vision of Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning, at the end of 2020, when I was the president of the jury of the San Sebastian Film Festival, and I saw that incredible masterpiece from a wonderful filmmaker from Georgia who made her debut.
When you know that there is a movie like that that exists despite the stupid rules of the industry, and the banal idea of ‘content’, and that empowers itself to a degree of defiance that is so sublime, you know that that’s a place of hope, or maybe it’s more than a place of hope, it’s a place of resistance and a place of fight.
If you could bring back one thing about the film culture of your youth, what would it be?
The great cinema of the 80s – which is a decade of incredible conformism, the Reagan-Thatcher era – created some wonderful antidotes in the great films of filmmakers who were really trying to find a sense of what the language of cinema is. Right now we live in a place where that sense of radicalism is being destroyed. There is a pretence that there is a promotion of difference, but in a way everything is completely in line with what the mainstream wants.
In the mainstream cinema of the 80s in Hollywood, filmmakers like John Landis, Jonathan Demme and Joe Dante were working within the boundaries of this Hollywood system but they were really making very radical films. A movie like Trading Places  is such a wonderful, beautiful homage to Preston Sturges’s cinema, and at the same time it’s such an incredible and beautiful parable of what capitalism is, and how we can fight it. When you see a comedy of manners today, made within the system of studios or streamers, it’s completely toothless and very disappointing.
The political atmosphere of what we’re living in now is a place of susceptibility. Everyone is susceptible. And so, because of the pervasive power of social media, the industry is very interested in not creating any conflicts with the susceptibility of social media, making films that are apparently progressively radical, but in reality are very backward and conservative.
How do you see the relationship between cinema and the small screen developing?
Are we still debating the concept of what cinema means, and what the theatrical experience means in comparison with the individual home video or televisual experience? This has been an ongoing conversation.
Cinema has been predicted to be dead forever. I remember when I was 14 I met the great filmmaker from Palermo, Franco Maresco, and Franco told me, “Cinema is dead.” And after 30 years we have seen so many great films that testify to the fact that no, cinema is not dead. What is dead is the capacity to be intellectually honest. There is cinema, and then there is content disguised as cinema by streamers. I don’t believe that streamers are in the business of cinema. I think streamers are in the business of content.
What should be done to raise awareness of the riches of film history?
When I was 14 or 15 I discovered Jean Renoir by seeing Boudu Saved from Drowning . I went to the library to look for articles on this guy Jean Renoir, and I started to talk to people who were older than me about Jean Renoir, and I found the book on Jean Renoir.
A kid of 14 who learns who Jean Renoir is today would have the great benefit of being able to delve deep into the director’s world and make all of the connections that took me years to make, maybe in a week. At the same time, they may become like a bee, flying from flower to flower and not enjoying sitting on a single flower for long enough to learn about it in detail.
The upside is that you have access to a lot of information, you have access to a lot of discoveries, you even have access to the actual texts – you can see movies more easily than we used to. The bad thing is that in a way, this very immediacy of the digital hypertext and knowledge may give you the idea that you know more than you actually do, and create a platoon of superficial cinephiles, whereas cinephiles by definition are not superficial, they are obsessive.
What does the film canon represent to you?
The film canon is my life. It’s the reason why I live.
What will cinema look like in 2031?
I can answer if I think back to ten years ago: 2011. In ten years we have seen the last movie of Bernardo Bertolucci, which was one of the most touching films of the decade. We have seen Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning.
We have seen a lot of junk and a lot of hype. So I think we’re going to see great movies and a lot of junk. A pile of junk. I think things are going to become more and more like the planet of Wall-E. But I think there will be human beings, not robots, sowing seeds and making flowers bloom in the junk. Junk will be there though, a lot of junk. It’s filled with junk. And Sight and Sound will have to turn heads here and there in the junk to find the flowers.