Fraser and Caitlin in the first episodeTWITTER/ZACQUEIROZ

“So what should I call you?” Fraser asks Caitlin as they sit on the beach on a warm Italian day. The question, an allusion to the director’s beloved Call Me by Your Name (2017), is left unanswered in the first episode, and is still in the air by the end of Luca Guadagnino’s latest masterpiece, leaving viewers craving for more.

We Are Who We Are is an eight-part series, focusing on the relationships within and between two families on an American military base in Italy in the broader context of the 2016 US election. The Wilsons on the one hand, who have just arrived from America, feature Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer), an eccentric, intellectual yet socially-awkward fashion icon, and his two moms: authoritative new commander Sarah, (Chloë Sevigny) and her mild wife, Maggie (Alice Braga). The Poythresses, on the other hand, include the reserved Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón) struggling with her gender identity; her brother, Danny (Spence Moore II), trying to reconnect with his mother’s native Islam; their strict conservative Christian father, Richard (Kid Cudi), and Jenny (Faith Alabi), their repressed and dissatisfied mother. The complex interactions between these characters, particularly the friendship between Fraser and Caitlin, form the core of the show, as they navigate individual and group identity, family dynamics, love, and grief.

The growing bond between the teens features at the heart of the seriesTWITTER/BLOGDSERIES

When we first meet Fraser, he is a deeply frustrated and lost loner, quick to anger and only appeased with alcohol that is often provided by his mother, Sarah. Mother and son share a bizarre Oedipal dynamic: he alternates from insulting and attacking her to cuddling up with her and even sucking her finger. It is only his relationship with Caitlin, whom he notices at school and is immediately fascinated by, that makes Fraser more stable and more open, and thus more likeable.

“The complex interactions between these characters, particularly the friendship between Fraser and Caitlin, form the core of the show.”

While Caitlin gives Fraser the confidence to seek out romance with a soldier on the base, he helps her on her own journey of self-discovery. In fact, Caitlin’s arc is perhaps even more interesting than Fraser’s. She navigates between her close, tomboyish camaraderie with her father, with whom she likes to physically spar, and her gender expression that Trump-supporting Richard cannot understand.

However, the teens’ symbiotic friendship is interpreted as a romance by most people around them, and brews conflict between some of the other characters. Notably, tensions rise in their friendship group, and between the opposing parents.

At the same time, different, independent, conflicts arise in other places. Maggie and Jenny, tired of existing in their spouses’ shadows, embark on their own life-affirming romantic journey, while Caitlin’s friends grapple with their friend’s estrangement. Nothing about any aspect of identity - gender, sexual, religious, or political – is fixed, as both adults and teenagers experience a world where there are no easy answers to that most fundamental of questions: “Who am I?”

The series is set in the Venetian coastal town of ChioggiaTWITTER/BLOGDSERIES

With its intimate and non-judgmental look at these characters in all their complexity, We Are Who We Are avoids the usual pitfalls of the coming-of-age genre, and its stereotypical characters or tired type-scenes. Richard, though socially conservative, is shown honestly and sympathetically. The climactic scene of their relationship takes place just after Caitlin shaves her head in order to look more masculine. Her father is furious, shouting at her one minute and embracing her the next as he realises that she is still his child.

“Guadagnino indulges us with self-consciously cinematic, luxurious, almost superfluous details [...]. We Are Who We Are seems at times to be a poetic love letter to Italy.”

Labels and categorisations are avoided in favour of ambiguity and self-definition. Indeed, the show seems to ask that the viewer lay aside their expectations of linear and action-filled plots, and instead just observe the characters as passengers in their journey. Once we succumb to the show’s magic, we can experience, alongside Fraser, the thrill of discovering a new country without many of the restrictions of the US. Guadagnino indulges us with self-consciously cinematic, luxurious, almost superfluous details, such as in the first episode, where we follow Fraser aimlessly riding his bike around getting drunk on Italian wine. Entire sequences are devoted to showing Caitlin hunting with her dad, where little is said and yet the conflictual if not deeply loving nature of their relationship is perfectly expressed. And when tragedy strikes the base, we mourn alongside the characters and see how each of them copes with loss.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Marion and cinema in Prague, Vienna and Berlin

We Are Who We Are seems at times to be a poetic love letter to Italy; at others, a moving character study of a wide range of different personalities, and sometimes even a quasi-philosophical musing on the fluid and ineffable nature of identity and love. It has many of the same features that seduced viewers of Call Me by Your Name (the soundtrack is, characteristically, excellent). However, the show is also less idealistic and narrow than Guadagnino’s 2017 movie, featuring a lot more raw emotion and conflict, as well as a larger thematic focus that adds additional layers of meaning to the series. If ever you need an escape from the bleak British midwinter, watch We Are Who We Are, and be enchanted.