Call Me by Your Name
Zarin Rafiuddin explores the multi-layered composition of love in this movie review
Everyone's love story is distinct to themselves but what we can take from it is the emotional bonds and friendship that comes with love. Call Me by Your Name (2017) is an exploration of sexuality and love. It is a queer love story between Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old American Italian boy of mixed heritage, and the 24-year-old American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer), who is also Elio's father's research assistant. They are both from Jewish backgrounds.
The film was nominated for Best Picture in the 90th Academy Awards but won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The screenplay was written by James Ivory, who is best known for directing The Remains of the Day (1993) based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel of the same name. Call Me by Your Name was directed by Luca Guadagnino, an Italian film director, who is known for making films about eroticism and sexuality. This movie is the last in his desire trilogy; the other two movies comprising the trilogy are I am Love (2010) and A Bigger Splash (2015). I am Love stared the famous actress Tilda Swinton, who came to Bangladeshi's Hay Festival last year. Call me by Your Name is based on the novel of the same title written by André Aciman.
The film is set in 1983 during a summer vacation. Elio has to give up his room to Oliver, who has come to help his father, Mr Perlman (Michael Stuhlberg), with his archaeological research. Elio stays in the spare room next door with an adjoined bathroom. Elio's mother, Annella Perlman (Amira Caesar), has orchids and is a woman of many talents.
They live in a luxurious house in the countryside near to the city Crema. Initially, Elio has a culture clash with Oliver, which is pretty interesting to watch. Whereas Elio is polite and well mannered, Oliver retains an American casualness and brashness, which annoys Elio. He even explains that his use of the word "Later" seems rude and his mother has to admit that Americans are more outspoken and have different manners. Another example, is Oliver going away to do his own individual things at nights when the family wishes to have dinner together.
I felt these cultural clashes can also be relatable from a South Asian perspective as Italian rural hospitality seems to match our own understanding of being a good host to guests. Eventually, Oliver attempts to be friendly with Elio but Elio seems reluctant to befriend him. Oliver's attractiveness and popularity also causes disdain in Elio as he is more introverted and a bookish sort of person. Thus there is a tension between them.
Elio also has a crush on a girl called Marzia, who does return his affections. Soon, there are open frictions between Oliver and Elio as Oliver realises that Elio doesn't always approve of him. However, in an archaeological dig they call "truce." Elio does want, as any teenager would want, Oliver's approval. On the other hand, Oliver is impressed by Elio's vast array of knowledge and musical prodigiousness. It seems their cultural friction is mitigated by their cerebral compatibility.
However, the film does not depict the queerness as taboo. It does stress on the age gap between the two. It keeps on reminding us through activities, behaviours and body languages that Elio is a minor on the brink of just entering adulthood and Oliver is an adult. I was happy the film did this as it may seem awkward and even uncomfortable for some people to see an adult, who obviously has more influence, be smitten with a teenager. Yet, the film manages to handle these sensitive issues with care.
I appreciate that the pacing was slow but not monotonous. Usually, in typical heterosexual romantic movies there is instant sexual chemistry and the plot revolves around that. This is not always realistic nor does it appeal to many. The movie shows a slow, languid pace of love, which is accentuated by the Italian summer and countryside vistas. Everything is lush and also ripening with the love of Elio and Oliver. These landscapes, city bends and household shots make the movie feel organic.
Elio and Oliver have many interactions and they communicate a lot before their relationship becomes romantic. There are also realistic dialogues; no sudden poetic verse or mood as Shakespeare parodied young love in Romeo and Juliet. There are awkward yet real conversations that make the film very enjoyable.
I could appreciate the non-chronological ways of handling desire and love because it was real. Elio feels frustrated by Oliver and Oliver is also frustrated by Elio but when they bond they do actually like the other. Their friendship becomes very strong and they start liking the other's company immensely. Their love is also given allusions through 16th century French love stories where one is said to speak or die. When Elio confesses, Oliver at first doesn't know how to respond, but he does show similar feelings.
What makes this movie different from Moonlight, the film that won best picture last year? Well, the movie adaptation does not follow Oliver and Elio throughout their lives whereas Moonlight was a bildungsroman heavily invested in the lives of Chiron and Kevin. In the novel, there are many ways in which this relationship is shown to be positive to Elio but also shows why it may fail. Moonlight shows the evolution of the same love throughout different stages in one's life.
Chiron and Kevin's love is shown for what it is and has hopeful notes. Seeing they are also the same age it makes it easier to understand this relationship. With Call me by Your Name you feel that Elio and Oliver are not always thinking of the long run. There are moments I think Oliver was also horrendously selfish and I feel Kevin and Chiron were kinder to each other.
In an interview, Timothée and Armie both agreed with the interviewer that the film isn't merely a gay or straight thing. The message is love and they agree with that. Also, Timothée and Armie agree that Stuhlberg's character, Mr Perlman, is an astounding father.
They feel that having a supportive father like that is crucial for any child. The actors also explained that they felt comfortable working with each other because they have good chemistry. Timothée found Armie friendly and easy to approach. Armie says that Timothée has an openness to him and that he has a great inner life that is transparent when one meets him, so you can see that transferred onto Elio's own behaviourisms.
Overall, Call me by your Name is an erotic, romantic story that is suited for older audiences. Viewers should be advised that there are explicit scenes in the film and that it is for adult audiences. The film is about a love that transcends cultures and compulsory heterosexuality. It is also about a friendship between two people who respect each other and treasure each other's differences. Elio discovers his bisexual identity through this relationship and even if it is not ideal he can take something from it.
The reviewer is working with The Asian Age