We Are Who We Are is available now on BBC iPlayer.
Luca Guadagnino’s ability to immerse his audience in delicate, person-centred stories of identity and vulnerability is renowned; for example, Call Me By Your Name in 2018 was a sun-drenched tale of desire and sexual awakening. The journey we took alongside Elio was bittersweet, intoxicating and sensual as we bathed in the complex emotions of adolescence and emerging sexual identity. In his first foray into the world of television, Guadagnino brings his trademark person-centred approach to episodic drama with an eight-part coming of age story that is vivid, poetic and beautiful in direction, performance and cinematography.
In We Are Who We Are, we are allowed brief entry into the private teenage world of Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Caitlin ‘Harper’ (Jordan Kristine Seamón), two teenagers brought together by the military careers of their parents on a US base in Italy during 2016. Here their emerging identities are caught up in the friendships and family relationships surrounding them.
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Opening with two episodes that mirror each other from different perspectives, we follow fourteen-year-old Fraser as he arrives in Italy from New York. Here his mothers, Sarah and Maggie (Chloe Sevigny and Alice Braga), are starting a new life on the Italian base. For Fraser, the move abroad is filled with anger, excitement and fear. Here his first day is spent floating around his new home, assessing each building and person with growing disdain. However, Fraser does find fleeting moments of pleasure in the sportsfield changing rooms, where a naked officer named Jonathan (Tom Mercier) envokes a flustered Fraser to freeze in his tracks. However, Fraser is unaware the older officer is his mother’s new assistant.
As the day progresses, Fraser finds himself invited to the beach by the social butterfly Britney (Francesca Scorcese). Still, despite Britney’s best efforts to flirt with him, it’s Caitlin or Harper who intrigues Fraser, her defiance and difference capturing his imagination and curiosity. In the second episode, we view this day from Harper’s perspective with the episode ending just as a new, urgent and complicated friendship is found between two teenagers desperate for a new connection. It is within the nuanced relationship between Fraser and Harper that We Are Who We Are sings with a rare beauty in the landscape of TV drama.
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In Fraser and Harper’s relationship, there are no simple rules, as both explore their sexual orientation, gender identity and emotions free from constraint, their feelings of difference tied to a need for experimentation. Here Fraser and Harper’s need for company clashes with their desire to collect new experiences and explore personal boundaries in a world where adult notions of love, respect and identity feel vague and alien to their personal experience.
There are no cliffhanger endings, no dramatic twists and turns, and no lazy teenage clichés in Guadagnino’s immersive story. Instead, he focuses on the daily interactions and choices of a group of teens thrown together in a foreign land. Here their lives are caught between the constructed Americana of the military base and the freedom of Italian culture – the action on-screen bound in a documentary-like realism, as conversations overlap, actions appear random, and joy sharply descends into anger or pain. This artistic beauty is never more powerfully reflected than in a house party during episode four, where the rampant behaviour of the teens hums with electricity. Here our very presence as observers feels like an invasion of privacy.
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Bathed in stunning cinematography, We Are Who We Are transcends the boundaries of TV drama in its cinematic power, the frequent use of the freeze-frame creating snapshots of adolescent memories. But, when you add to this the genuinely outstanding performances from Jack Dylan Grazer and Jordan Kristine Seamón, We Are Who We Are becomes one of the year’s most creative, engaging and beautiful TV dramas. Here its intimate portrait of identity, conformity and rebellion shines with originality, love and innovation.
Director: Luca Guadagnino