|Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name
posted by Ralph Malachowski on Feb 1, 2018 10:30am | comments
Call Me by Your Nameis one of those films that will take you unaware. It took a while to make it to the local multiplexes, having been screened only in art houses for several weeks. Like its famed predecessor, Brokeback Mountain, it took a while to catch on. Perhaps it’s due to it being (somewhat incorrectly) labelled as a gay love story, and a complicated one at that, since it does involve a minor and an adult in a same sex relationship.
However, this is Italy, 1983, and a graduate student is spending the summer with a classics scholar at the family villa. Italy looks as if it’s 1950, not 1983, which adds to its charm. James Ivory (of the celebrated Merchant-Ivory film classics) was involved with the project, and his sensibility can be sensed throughout the film: understatement; sensuality; and passion.
Eros enters the laconic, shimmering summer in the person of Oliver, an American Apollo, played by the fascinating actor, Armie Hammer, who physically dominates his surroundings, a being who sleeps when sleepy and who attacks his food with gusto. Oliver fascinates the bookish 17-year-old Elio, Timothee Chalumet (looking like one of those seductive Hellenic statues himself) who is first irked by his brashness, only later becoming enraptured by Oliver’s animal magnetism. Meanwhile, both Oliver and Elio are dancing with and dating village girls. Amusingly, at one point Elio is waiting until midnight for their romantic meeting, often checking his wristwatch wishing time would speed faster even while he is seducing a young girl.
Much has been made of the peach scene, and it is wonderfully ambiguous. Elio fingers the ithyphallic fruit, caressing it as if it were a magnificent glans, then proceeds to feverishly remove its pit and uses it for a semen repository. A personal favorite scene is the fish caught by the family retainer, which is shoved into our faces, its death throes and spasms appear for all the world as a phallic ejaculation, with its life fluids oozing from its gaping mouth.
Elio’s parents, the Perlmans, are played by Amira Casar and the amazing Michael Stuhlberg. Both parents are seemingly unflappable to everything and anything that occurs around them. Early on, they seem to know what is going on between their son and the handsome stranger. Mrs. Perlman during a rainy day looks for something to read, finding a story which is in German, a language which is her fourth, and struggles to read it to Elio. She reads of a lady’s forbidden love for a knight, with the admonishment that it is better to speak than to die of unrequited love. Later, they nonchalantly chat that wouldn’t it be nice if their son and Oliver spend a few days together before Oliver leaves for America. Spoiler alert is coming, so be forewarned. Finally, Stuhlberg delivers an emotional coup de grace when telling his son that he was blessed by finding Oliver, and their relationship is something wonderful to be cherished. Dad all but comes out to his son. It seems that he, too, had such yearnings, but failed to act upon them. Elio asks, “Does mom know?” Dr. Perlman replies that he’s not sure, but he doubts it. Apropos of this heartbreaking scene, we remember Jean Genet who said, “Worse than not realizing the dreams of your youth would be to have been young and never dreamed at all.”
As mentioned above, Call Me by Your Name does have something in common with Brokeback Mountain. There is a shirt. Oliver’s oxford button-down shirt which is used as a semen repository. At one point, Elio’s quiet voice inquires, “Can I have that shirt when you go?” We soon see the shirt on a wire hangar, pressed and fresh, which Elio wears triumphantly about the house, much too large for his gamin frame.
Oliver not only destabilized Elio’s Eros, but also his religious outlook. The Perlmans are not overly religious in the traditional sense. They celebrate Christmas in Italy rather than Hanukkah. Elio accepts Oliver’s Star of David neck chain and begins to wear one himself. The film ends in winter. It is snowing. Elio now wears fashionable clothes of the period. The Perlmans are now celebrating Hanukkah. Oliver calls. They both tell each other how much they miss each other. Oliver tells Elio of his forthcoming marriage. In a scene worthy of Garbo in Queen Christina, Elio stares into the fire, his face a landscape of emotion from tears to knowing smile.
My friend Dave asked if he should see Call Me by Your Name. My reply was that it was haunting me for days, but he being younger, it might not be for him. He might consider it an “old man’s film.” Forget that idea. It is a film you must see. Call Me by Your Name is an outstanding achievement of filmed poetry, a song of love.