Call Me by Your Name * 2017 * Rated R * 2 hours 11 Minutes
😸😸😸😸½ Rated 4½/5 Happy lap cats
Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino and with a screenplay by James Ivory, is a beautiful movie in many ways. The film, which is adapted from André Aciman’s novel, is a character study and coming of age story that follows a 17 year old boy as he explores his sexuality and falls in love with his father’s summer graduate assistant, a 24 year old man. It takes place in 1983 in a small town Northern Italy, which is so lovely it seems almost idyllic, except that the couple have to keep their relationship a secret and can’t even kiss in front of others.
Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his family spend summers and holidays on the estate that his mother inherited, in the town of Crema. The region embodies every gorgeous thing you’ve ever heard about Italy. The film is brimming with old stone work, old tile work, newly discovered ancient statuary, turquoise waters, orchards dripping with fruit, golden sunshine, and patios with tables overflowing with delicious fresh food and wine. Even the rainy days are perfectly enticing times to sit by the antique fireplace and listen to Elio’s mom, Annella (Amira Casar), translate medieval romance novels.
Elio typically spends his time reading, swimming, working on his music, hanging around with the local kids, and occasionally visiting his father’s archaeological sites. Mr Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an archaeology professor who does research locally during the summer while also writing books. He hires a graduate student each summer to act as his assistant for 6 weeks. This year’s assistant is a confident, exuberant American named Oliver (Armie Hammer). Elio has to give up his bedroom to Oliver and move to a much smaller room next door. The two rooms share an adjoining bathroom and the door to the hall, leaving both with little privacy.
The two notice each other immediately and start circling, but it takes some time for each to loosen up and develop trust. They each briefly date a woman during this period, causing the other to become jealous and more distant. Oliver, in particular, struggles with a need to deny his feelings and sexual attraction, because he feels that they are wrong. Elio is young and inexperienced, afraid he’s reading the signals wrong, and uncertain of what the consequences might be if he says the wrong thing. Both eventually break through their anxieties and fear of rejection, so that their relationship can truly begin about halfway through the film.
From then on, the pair have to deal with the bittersweetness of the situation. They are in love, but in that time period it was difficult for gay men to be together openly, though, as shown in the movie, it wasn’t impossible. In addition, there is the age difference, which is an issue because they are in such different places in life. Elio is still in high school and living with his parents, while Oliver is ready to start his settled adult life, and comes from a homophobic family. It’s too many challenges for them to even bring up trying to stay more than friends after the summer.
So they know from the start it will be a brief affair/first love and try to savor every moment, covertly aided by Elio’s parents, the best parents ever. The actors really shine in the second half of the film, as their feelings grow and reality hits home. Armie Hammer starts out as a perfect WASP, glib and seemingly shallow. We watch as his facade crumbles, little by little, until it’s clear that this might be the deepest emotion he’s ever felt, and that he’s about to feel the most pain he’s ever felt.
We watch Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet, who is 22, go from an immature 17 year old boy to a mature young man. In the beginning of the film he doesn’t know what to do with feelings that are so huge, possibly so hopeless, and definitely scary. He and Oliver eventually figure out how to cope with their feelings together, in that stumbling, stupid way boys often have (sorry, guys!). They are gently guided from behind the scenes by Elio’s parents, especially his mother, without Elio or Oliver realizing it.
By the end, Elio has loved and lost, but lived to tell the tale and love again. His father gives an amazing speech to help him through the loss. It’s all beautiful and emotionally satisfying.
If you can make it through the middle of the film, that is. Mr Metawitches couldn’t, and wandered away for the entire middle third, then came back for the end. He understood the last part of the movie fine, as if he hadn’t missed any of it. There’s really not any plot going on to speak of, never mind sub plots, and the only characters being developed are the two guys.
As an advertisement to travel to Italy and a very visual love story, it works great. But you have to be very invested in every nuance of the love story. Long periods go by with no forward progress in Oliver and Elio’s relationship, just pouting, longing, and using women when they actually want each other.
It makes the film feel a bit flabby. The story would have felt less self-indulgent to me with 20-30 minutes edited out. Frolicking in fields and rivers is lovely, but I have my own life to live. It’s not like we would have lost scintillating dialogue with the cuts. They could also have cut some of the naps out. People apparently nap a lot in Italy.
Some of the dialogue is delightful, though. Besides Mr Perlman’s speech, there’s Annella’s medieval romance, and all of the switching between French, Italian and English that the characters do routinely. The banter tends more toward sweet and sincere than witty and sardonic, which fits a couple who are learning to get past their fears and take a leap of faith with each other.
The characters are all decent, nice people who want the best for each other. The only villain in this piece is time. The time that they have together that’s too short. The time span that represents the difference in their ages which complicates their relationship. The time that they were born in that’s too early to allow them and their relationship to be accepted the way they/it would be today.
I haven’t read the book, but I understand that it’s narrated by an older Elio. I wouldn’t have minded a glimpse of what becomes of Elio later in his life. We get a hint of Oliver’s immediate direction, but a scene between Oliver and Elio from five or ten summers or Hanukkahs later could have been a good way to wrap it up. (Ha! I went to Wiki to look up awards nominations and discovered that the director wants to make FIVE sequels to Call Me By Your Name over the next 30 years, following the characters through their lives. I’m so on board for that.)
Call Me by Your Name is nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Timothée Chalamet), Best Adapted Screenplay (James Ivory) and Best Original Song (Sufjan Stevens). It’s probably a long shot to win any of them, but it deserved all of the nominations. It’s a moving, truthful film that deserves to be remembered among the best of the year.
Photo Credit: SONY Pictures Classics