There is an ache that permeates through my bones when the final scene unfolds and lingers.
Elio Perlman’s beautiful eyes are filled with tears as he watches each ember fade to ash, his love lost in the fire. And I’m left with a vacuous feeling after consuming this piece of art and its whole, “Call Me By Your Name.” What is it about this Oscar-personified, coming-of-age romantic drama that has me conflicted?
I came late to the game with this one, on my bucket list since its release, viewed just last week. I knew instantly this would be the pick for film criticism week along with this ‘tad too saccharine for my taste buds’ review by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.
While the review looks at the beauty of the film and its emotional appeal, what it does not address are the issues that viewers like myself are grappling with. After experiencing the fresh, fiery and “forbidden” relationship between 17-year-old Elio Perlman & 24-year-old Oliver in a Roman-catholic town in Northern Italy in 1983, issues will arise.
First and foremost, the film is undoubtedly a masterpiece in its arduous direction by Luca Guadagnino. Adapted from the 2007 novel by Andre Aciman, the screenplay by James Ivory wins him an Oscar and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeepromb paints a Lombardy summer in verdant beauty. Timothy Chalemet brings his character’s pain forth with such craft that his Oscar nomination was no wonder. His journey is yours. Armie Hammer does carry the devilishly handsome Oliver on his broad, divine shoulders with an inimitable grace and sangfroid, but “Call Me By Your Name” is Chalemet’s.
“Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine,” says Oliver to Elio as he caresses his cheek after their first rapturous night. While the line did little to sway me, it is evident that their relationship is not an exploitation but a connection. Travers gets this right in his review but leaves out so much more.
The review’s “Sexiest film of 2017,” “steamy tale,” “movie of the year for incurable romantics,” “swooning new classic…” paints a picture of a film that is a love-laced drama with all the elements of a torrid romance thrown in. But this is a film with so much else, that the words of glorified praise do not cover adequate ground.
Here’s Elio, a Jewish-American, musically and linguistically skilled prodigy who has a way with the girls in his clique. He smokes with his parents and discusses sex and virginity with his father. Then walks in Oliver, the Jewish-American doctoral intern working with Elio’s father on an archaeological research project. The two intellectually stimulated individuals, Elio and Oliver, surreptitiously enter into a relationship which the Perlmans are privy to and seem to have no objection to, even while their underage son makes love to the guest under their own roof. Passion dominates the scenes between the two lead characters, so much so that even a peach is not spared their sexual exploits. One step further, the Perlmans pack the two off on a “romantic” trip to Bergamot for a few days. Then there’s Oliver’s blithe display of affection in public which seems as though it were the zeitgeist of Italy then. Was it? These are some of said issues.
When their love comes to a heartbreaking end, the profound monologue delivered by Elio’s father – Michael Stuhlbarg will keep you in his gentle grasp throughout – is beautiful but not merely an act of empathy as described by Travers. It is not just a father advising his son to stay true to his nature, risks be damned. It is a father advising his son to stay true to himself to overcome this loss and carry on. To me, he also does so with regret stemming from a similar (same-sex) loss of “the one and only love” in his youth.
Lastly, it boils down to the pressing issue of the representation of a minority group in cinema, and “Call Me By Your Name” gets it right! This should be brought to the fore in the review for the film is not about sexuality or rampant sex but a beautiful union between two people in love and that’s what makes it a “swooning tale” if Travers still wants to go with that.
While the film is one I applaud, it’s the story that has me at odds with myself. Is it really that simple? And the review is facile, to put it tersely. It’s “Call Me By Your Name” on the surface level. I want to dig deeper (no ‘punny’ reference to the archaeology here) for it does dare you to think beyond what you see.
I cannot wait to get my hands on the book no matter that Travers gives the ending away. Another reason I’m not terribly fond of this review. But like I said, I came late to the game.
This critical piece was written in Jan 2019, for a film review class for the Goldring Arts Journalism Program, at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University.