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Luca Guadagnino's We Are Who We Are is compelling not for its storyline, but because of its environment

  • "Guadagnino, who created, co-wrote, and directed the series, has eight episodes across which he can drape his narrative, and he embraces the notion of taking his time," Jen Chaney says of the Italian filmmaker's HBO series, starring Jack Dylan Grazer and Jordan Kristine Seamon. "We Are Who We Are, debuting Monday night, is a series that you want to keep watching not out of curiosity to find out what happens next, but because of the environment in which it unfolds. Guadagnino places his camera in the spaces shared by Army brats living on a military base in Chioggia, Italy, and just lets these kids be. Watching it is akin to being a fly on the wall in a hyperspecific setting, assuming you are a fly who happens to be a gifted cinematographer. We Are Who We Are is gorgeously photographed and obsessive in its attention to detail. Guadagnino is drawn to the messes people make and don’t bother to clean up, both literally and emotionally. In the fourth episode, which focuses on a celebration that stretches from day to deep into the night, Guadagnino pauses on empty beer bottles, remnants of cooked spaghetti, and PlayStation controllers tossed aside and still faintly aglow to capture the mood of a party that’s gone on a little too long. The relationships, particularly between parents and children, ebb and flow in a similar fashion; at times they are vital, but they can quickly turn into something fatiguing."


    • We Are Who We Are is a textbook example of a journey-over-destination kind of show: "You’ll want to spend its time on the air much like the characters: staring at beautiful, charismatic people, not thinking about the future or the past—just the pulsating, all-encompassing, ephemeral present," says Alison Herman, adding: "We Are Who We Are is partly a follow-up to Euphoria, the channel’s initial foray into teen-centric programming. We Are Who We Are isn’t trying to provoke the way Sam Levinson’s neon-lit PSA so often is, but it’s bound to provoke nonetheless. Fueled by Italy’s relaxed social mores, the clique Fraser finds himself drawn into drinks, flirts, and generally cavorts with abandon. But We Are Who We Are juxtaposes this naturalist, slice-of-life approach with a more stilted, melodramatic, even campy mode of being. There are lots of wide, long shots where Guadagnino takes tangible pleasure in watching Grazer futz with his jacket, or Seamón ride a boat, or the entire cast jump into a pool. There are also many scenes that don’t feel entirely of this world."
    • We Are Who We Are is sensual, immersive but weirdly inert: "The show develops characters and relationships to the near exclusion of plot, with the first two episodes covering Fraser’s arrival at the base from his perspective, then again from Caitlin’s," says Judy Berman. "When the story finally starts to move, what emerges isn’t a galvanizing problem so much as a sense that each character, no matter how seemingly clear, will come to surprise us. Sarah is dominant at work and in her marriage but absorbs violent attacks from her emotionally disturbed son. Characters are more flexible in their identities than meets the eye. Guadagnino lingers on blurred binaries—straight and gay, Black and white, adolescence and adulthood, love and hate. The base is, itself, a liminal space: a tiny, almost imaginary American dot on the map of Italy...Such moments, when time dilates and an audiovisual medium achieves almost tactile vividness, are Guadagnino’s trademark. Yet his sensibility doesn’t fully translate to TV. While a movie is self-contained, We Are Who We Are doesn’t generate enough narrative momentum in early episodes to either hook weekly viewers or fuel an eight-hour binge."
    • We Are Who We Are isn’t so much a coming-of-age story as a celebration-of-age story: "At the end of America’s lost summer, it’s a deeply felt recognition of teenage vitality, capturing and honoring the symphony of emotions that make so many of these youthful moments feel monumental," says Ben Travers. "Some such moments are heavy and hard, but Guadagnino balances them with a bevy of joyful, blissful, and endearing experiences to make the first four episodes go by in the blink of an eye. Like those perfect summer days, We Are Who We Are only makes you crave more."
    • Guadagnino is able to viscerally transport his audience to the feeling of a particular part of our own lives: "If there’s one thing that We Are Who We Are seems to be exploring more broadly, it’s that: The trouble and the epiphanies teens discover while trying to simply fill their days," says Kevin Fallon. "It’s a fascinating conundrum, and, in some ways, We Are Who We Are’s most impressive triumph. How do you capture the lives of teenagers finding ways to waste time, yet also make television that is gripping? Something that hooks without a hook? That Guadagnino is able to capture the specific listlessness of that period of life—a certain bored wanderlust—speaks to his acute emotional intelligence. He is able to viscerally transport his audience to the feeling of a particular part of our own lives, as he most powerfully proved with Elio’s aching, tortured longing in Call Me by Your Name."
    • Guadagnino’s gift here is more for atmosphere and emotion, and the episodes burst with them: "They’re rich with sun and salt and a touch of melancholy. The camera revels in the Labrador-like energy with which these kids — except Fraser — leap into any available body of water," says James Poniewozik. "There’s a lot of leaping in We Are Who We Are, figurative and literal. The young characters make impulsive life decisions with the same energy they use for dangerous, illicit rides on the Army-base zip line. (Guadagnino, who shares the writing with Paolo Giordano and Francesca Manieri, also has an eye for a great visual metaphor.)"
    • We Are Who We Are is an intense, exhilarating queer melodrama that evolves, recombines and finally crystallizes its director and cowriter’s pleasure principle into one of the year’s best TV series
    • Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, went from being in We Are Who We Are to helping score it
    • Watch the first episode of We Are Who We Are on YouTube

    TOPICS: We Are Who We Are, HBO, Alice Braga, Chloe Sevigny, Dev Hynes, Francesca Manieri, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jordan Kristine Seamon, Luca Guadagnino, Paolo Giordano, Sean Conway