Intoxicating new TV show to stream now
Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino really knows how to bring a place to life, evoking specific worlds to inform his characters, and which audiences easily, enthusiastically lose themselves in.
In his films, including Call Me By Your Name and I Am Love, Guadagnino lets his viewers marinate in these mini-universes, a cinematic mood so rich you can almost smell the Italian orchards, or in the case of his Suspiria remake, the fetid flesh of demonic beings.
So, imagine what Guadagnino can do when he's not limited by a two-hour runtime and is given eight hours to explore something.
The result is We Are Who We Are, an entrancing, refined and languid eight-part HBO and Sky Atlantic series, debuting today on SBS Viceland and SBS On Demand.
Starring Jack Dylan Grazer, Jordan Kristine Seamon, Chloe Sevigny and Kid Cudi, it's a luxurious coming-of-age miniseries, set on an American military base in Italy, right on the Adriatic coast.
Fraser Wilson (Grazer) is a 14-year-old American teen who moves with his mother Sarah (Sevigny) and her wife Maggie (Alice Braga) from New York to Italy. Sarah is the new commander at the military base, and Fraser is none too happy about being uprooted.
His first day on the base, as Fraser is walking around, sneaking into the base's high school, he spies his next-door neighbour, Caitlin (Seamon) and her friends, including Britney (Francesca Scorsese), Sam (Ben Taylor) and Caitlin's brother Danny (Spence Moore II).
Fraser wordlessly follows them to the beach at Britney's behest, earning himself the nickname "T-shirt" because of his striking attire.
Fraser's exploration of the base also serves to introduce this microcosm of a community to the audience, a bizarre between-world that's not quite American and not quite Italian. He glides through institutional spaces, a Stepford Wives-esque supermarket and the shower block in which copious military peen is on show.
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But Fraser is not just the guide to the space, his adventure sets up the kind of show Guadagnino has created.
It's a sensory experience, one in which diegetic sounds such as the tz-tz-tz of the sprinkler competes with music escaping through earbuds, or snatches of eavesdropped conversation that don't quite make sense.
The sun is beaming down and the young bodies of We Are Who We Are glisten with sweat and carefree confidence.
Later episodes will spend whole acts in one space, including a substance-fuelled celebration in which their bodies are one with the music that seems to carry them away. There's a heady intimacy that makes the viewer complicit in its almost bacchanalian abandon.
It's what, one suspects, the Zendaya-starring Euphoria was trying to create, but with less success.
Guadagnino builds an overwhelming sense of place - but that's nothing without the characters that inhabit it, and how they interact with it.
Grazer as the observant Fraser is enigmatic in many ways, from his inscrutable and complex relationship with his mother to how he downs red wine with gusto. Every character - teen or adult - are these fully formed humans that go far beyond stereotype.
But it's Seamon, 17, who's the revelation. Caitlin, with her cropped shirts and baggy pants is on a journey of gender discovery - who Caitlin is supposed to be and who Caitlin actually is. The character journey is in the declarative title, We Are Who We Are.
That exploration of gender fluidity in Seamon's performance and in Guadagnino's storytelling, plus the friendship and support between Caitlin and Fraser, is the core of the series.
That emotional resonance is what grounds a show that could've easily being little more than indulgence in different hands. In Guadagnino's hands, We Are Who We Are is an intoxicating and accomplished screen experience.
We Are Who We Are is available to stream on SBS On Demand and is broadcast on SBS Viceland at 9.30pm on Tuesdays
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Originally published as Intoxicating new TV show to stream now