«I am my own muse»

Director Luca Guadagnino on inspiration, education and success

His love movie “Call Me By Your Name” received four Oscar nominations. However, director Luca Guadagnino is reluctant to speak of success. The remake “Suspiria” is the Italian’s fourth feature film collaboration with actress Tilda Swinton. But his muse is someone else. During a masterclass, the autodidact familiarised ZHdK students with his working methods.


Luca Guadagnino during his ZHdK masterclass in November 2018. Photograph: Johannes Dietschi © ZHdK

Lea Dahinden: How important is education for filmmakers?
Luca Guadagnino: It depends on whether we believe in education as something that comes from an institution like a university or if it means developing your skills individually. I taught myself filmmaking. I never attended film school and have never believed in film schools. The two days at Zurich University of the Arts have shown me that it is a good place to bring people together and for them to develop themselves.

Would you have applied to ZHdK film school if you had known about it?
As a young man, I met the brilliant director Jean-Marie Straub. He told me never to go to film school and that was what I did. So probably no, I wouldn’t have applied here. Because I don’t think a university is right for someone like myself.

Call Me By Your Name was nominated for an Oscar in the category “Best Film” in 2018. How do you deal with the success?
I don’t know if the nomination means that I’m successful. Maybe it means that the movie I made has raised a lot of interest. The nomination mainly meant a lot of work for me.

You once said “I am old enough to be grounded and to understand things in perspective.” Can success become a problem for young filmmakers?
Definitely! I think success is a very, very, very serious problem for young filmmakers, and for filmmakers in general, because you have to know how to handle success. It is important never to believe that success is going to rule your life! Take charge of your life so that you don’t need to be told that you are successful.

Does the film world need muses?
No! A muse is a passive, objectified presence that is supposed to inspire, usually a man. I don’t believe in muses. I am my own muse.

How important is it for directors to master different genres?
Well, the concept of genre is not particularly specific. I think it’s more about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Because if you want to play specifically with genre, it’s only a question of approach for that to work.

What was the dominant theme at the beginning of your career? When I started out, I put myself under constant pressure because I thought that the director should know everything. My career has taught me that that isn’t true. It’s better not to know everything and to let your ideas guide you and to keep an open mind.

Lea Dahinden is a project manager at ZHdK University Communications.
Luca Guadagnino (1971) was born to an Algerian mother and an Italian father. He studied literature at the Sapienza University of Rome. He made his feature film debut at the age of 28 with the thriller “The Protagonists,” with Tilda Swinton in the leading role. Their collaboration continued in “I Am Love,” “A Bigger Splash” and “Suspiria”. Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name” received numerous nominations for film awards, including four nominations at the 2018 Oscars.
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