As You Like It: a Review of Call Me By Your Name
If Brokeback Mountain was 2005's iconic rallying cry of a film for the LGBT audience, Call Me By Your Name is the sepia-hued, in rose-tinted glasses, 2017 version. I liken it to a gay Summer of '42; that film that showcased a young boy's sexual awakening at the hands of an older woman - but in this case, it's an older man with an aggressive young boy. It opens with its regular run this Wednesday.
Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet
Directed by Luca Guadagnino from a screenplay by the venerable James Ivory, and based on the Andre Aciman 2007 novel - the film is set in 1983, in the Northern Italian town of Crema. There, the young, musically inclined, moody Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) spends his languid summer while his parents (portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg & Amira Casar) work, play, invite friends over, and imbibe Europe. An Archaeology professor, Elio's father regularly takes on doctoral students as interns for the summer, and when the handsome, brash and confident Oliver (Armie Hammer) shows up, our story truly develops.
Ostensibly straight men, Elio has a local 'girlfriend', and it isn't long before Oliver is the talk of the little town, flirting with the village girls himself. But from a relationship based on antipathy, even outright resentment (Elio has to give up his room for the intern); there slowly develops a relationship based on mutual attraction and sexual curiosity. It's the scene at the local swimming creek that pushes the attraction into something physical, with Elio the aggressor. And what follows is a 'game' that escalates until a full blown affair has materialized - with the infamous 'peach' scene. As with practically all things, an end has to come, and the closing shot of Elio as he receives news of Oliver's impending marriage is most likely what earned Chalamet all his Best Actor nominations.
If there is another pivotal scene that had audiences tearing or aching with empathy, it would be the one between Elio and his father - who while seemingly distanced and distracted with his archeological work, is in fact, compassionate and understanding of what Elio has experienced that fateful Summer. While some quarters have called this scene unrealistic and the stuff of fairy tales, I'd rather comment that if there ever was a demographic who needs their fairy tales, the one of the young adolescent confused about his or her sexuality, would be one. The trepidation, the anguish, the turmoil that accompanies this kind of self-realization is well-chronicled; so what does it matter that in this film there is an idealized depiction of this 'rite of passage'.
Gorgeously shot in 35-mm film, the Crema location is practically a character in the film, creating a picturesque backdrop to all that happens. Call Me By Your Name actually has a 'small story', but thanks to the sensitive direction, the ensemble acting, and the convincing portrayals of the two main protagonists, the film elevates itself to be more than the sum of its' parts.
Cover photo, screengrab from Sony Pictures Classics