Call Me By Your Name
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: James Ivory
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet
Is Call Me By Your Name Any Good?
Call Me By Your Name is one of the most talked about films of the year and is the most recent movie by director Luca Guadagnino, following on from his success with the similarly languid summer film A Bigger Splash. The main reason why it’s become so popular is that it feels so fresh and different to any other gay love story you’ve seen before. Set in 1983, it feels almost out of time, save a brief interjection of pop music, and the cloud of a slightly less accepting time hanging over the characters. It is not a story just about sexual repression however, it is more about the confusing and erratic and exciting feelings of first love, as well as the power imbalance of someone who is far more experienced and confident against someone who is not.
If there’s one criticism that can be levelled at it, it is that at times some of the visual metaphors can feel a bit on the nose and the whole thing can feel a bit long and too slow-paced. But it would simply not be possible to make a film like this without it feeling so. Cutting the subtle interactions between Oliver and Elio would force it to turn from a real and visceral display of first love to a simple romcom style piece. By the time we reach the end of the film it feels like the summer has been endless, yet no time at all. As we see Ellio cry into the camera as the credits roll, another slow paced yet beautifully powerful moment, we truly understand what he has gone through.
“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything - what a waste!”
Age Gap Controversy in Call Me By Your Name
Some controversy has erupted around the film due to the age gap between the two protagonists. Elio is a 17 year old boy, while Oliver is a 24 year old scholar. One of the biggest commentators on this was actor James Woods who disapprovingly tweeted “As they quietly chip away the last barriers of decency. #NAMBLA.” (The hashtag referenced to North American Man/Boy Love Association, a paedophile advocacy group). It is perhaps not his disapproval of the age difference that angered some, but more his explicit targeting of homosexuality (rather than just age) and relating it to paedophilia, despite Elio both not being pre-pubescent and being over the age of consent in Italy.
Armie Hammer himself pointed out Woods’ own hypocrisy by tweeting back “Didn’t you date a 19-year-old when you were 60 …?”. It seems that for people like Woods it is not necessarily the age gap that is the real issue. Arguably though there is truth in the fact that there can be issues with a 24 year old dating a 17 year old. One is an adult, often with infinitely more power and experience, whereas the other is only of the cusp of all these things. The film doesn’t shy away from these ideas however, but actively explores them, as the power imbalance and Elio trying to redress this is at the heart of the story. The fact that Oliver is still young enough to see echoes of his teenage self in Elio, while both characters are outsiders by their sexuality and eventually end up on an even playing field, regardless of their age, makes this a poignant coming of age story rather than a horrific glamorizing of paedophilia as James Woods implied.
What Was With The Peach?
Some people have claimed that the scene with the peach is the most outrageous movie scene this year. And it is definitely true that it is hard to see it in a cinema without a moment of nervous shock rippling through the audience. When alone, the teenage Elio goes American Pie style, using a peach to masturbate while fantasizing about Oliver. The Guadagnino, the director, didn’t himself know if the scene should be cut, being a bit too explicit. However his biggest problem was “struggling with the possibility that you can masturbate yourself with such a fruit”, but true to his realist nature, he said “I grabbed a peach and I tried, and I have to say - it works” and he wasn’t the only one, as when he spoke to star Timothée Chalamet in preparation for the scene, he had also done the same.
What results is a rather beautiful and delicate scene which manages to capture the idea of the young Elio’s unrestrained adolescent sexual desire and manic energy, while the ending of the scene as Oliver enters, sees the peach and eats it, exhibiting both his acceptance of Elio, as well as his still slightly controlling nature.
Songs On The Call Me By Your Name Soundtrack
One of the most memorable parts of Call Me By Your Name is the soundtrack. As Elio is a budding pianist, the soundtrack and his own performances often combine and interplay so that much of it is formed of pieces composed by people such as John Adams, Frank Glazer and Bach. This kind of piano based music is a key theme to the story, both audibly and within the plot as Elio attempts to compose music for Oliver in an attempt to win him over. By contrast, the soundtrack also includes rock and pop music from the period that leaps out of the bed of classical piano pieces. Songs by people like The Psychedelic Furs, Bandolero and Giorgio Moroder are some of the few moments where the story stops feeling universal and timeless but begin feeling more grounded in an era.
The most remarkable part of the soundtrack however is the three songs provided by acclaimed alternative musician Sufjan Stevens. As an artist who normally refuses to do soundtracks, it was impressive that Guadagnino manages to persuade him to contribute, but it seems his genuine admiration for his music, as well as Sufjan’s connection with the script made him change the habit of a lifetime. ‘Futile Devices’ is a track that was previously released but features in a stripped back remixed version, while the new songs ‘Mystery of Love’ and ‘Visions of Gideon’ provide a truly beautiful background acting as the main themes of the movie. In the final scene, Timothee Chalamet stares into camera for the duration of one of Sufjan’s track as he tears begin to stream down his face, creating one of the most memorable scenes of the year.
The Call Me By Your Name Ending - Is It A Happy One?
The ending of Call Me By Your Name is one of the single most remarkable scenes the film has to offer. During Hanukkah, Elio gets a phone call from Oliver who informs him and his family that he is engaged to be married. Following the phone call, we see a lingering close up of Elio’s face as he processes the news and begins to break down in tears as his parents and maids begin to prepare for the Hanukkah dinner behind him.
This immense single take has firmly cemented Timothee Chalamet’s name as one of the leading young actors in the world today. It is clearly a sad scene, as Elio finds discovers and processes the fact that his first love has moved on from him. However there is something deeper than that - Elio has the happiness of the memories with him, as well as the fact that Oliver managed to accompany him through an important journey of self-discovery.
However there is also a greater sadness, in the fact that despite Oliver’s attraction to Elio and men in general, he has conformed to a marriage between a man and woman, succumbing to a traditional world where heterosexuality is the only thing considered normal, just like Elio’s father too. There is still hope however, with Elio being young and having the possibilities of a new generation in front of him, and therefore in a way revels in his grief, as he knows it is a reflection of the rare beauty he found in their relationship.
"Just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it."
Is Call Me By Your Name Based On A Book?
Call Me By Your Name is originally based on a book by American writer André Aciman and was published in 2007. Despite being a popular book that was well received by critics, it has only been with the release of the film that a much broader audience has found out about its existence, previously having not been a major best-seller nor garnish many awards, asides from the award for Gay Fiction at the 20th Lambda Literary Awards.
One of the most interesting differences between the novel and the book is the ending. With a passage set twnty years after their original meeting, Oliver once again visits Elio’s family home in Italy and recall their time together, as well as Elio telling Oliver that his father has died and he has scattered his ashes around the globe. In the final scene, Elio remarks to the reader that if Oliver remembered everything like he says, he should once again "look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name."
Why Are There So Many Flies in Call Me By Your Name?
One of the most subtly noticeable but fairly inexplicable moments of Call Me By Your Name are the sheer amount of house flies which seem to scuttle and flitter over so many scenes. When you first notice one of these creatures you instantly assume that one crept into the scene, but the director decided to keep the take untouched anyway. As the movie progresses and flies seem to become a recurring motif however, it is impossible to think this is merely accidental. When in the final lingering scene, a buzzes around Elio’s head, before landing on his clothes and even face without the slightest reaction, it is clear that this can only be a CGI addition.
The big question however is why? There doesn’t seem to be a single definitive obvious reason, however many have proposed some possible ideas. Despite having heavy storms and rainfall on 28 out of 34 shooting days, the movie is drenched in vibrant and dreamlike sunshine. The sheer effort Guadagnino goes to give the true sense of summer shows, so perhaps the flies are just a reflection of the long, hot days with trees and bugs in full fruition. Another idea is that flies are notoriously connected with ideas of death and disease. As a film documenting homosexuality in the 1980s, it surprisingly avoids any real explicit exploration of AIDS. Could the flies be a subtle nod to the ominous threat that permeated the gay community during that era? Others have even thought it may be a reflection on the fly’s short life span, existing primarily during this period to find a mate, just like Elio and Oliver during the summer. More wild ideas have even focused on the sheer abundance of fruit and the carelessness that it is left around to rot causing the infestation. Why they were added may never be truly answered however, as director Luca Guadagnino has previously refused to comment.
"The young knight finds himself very much and unable to speak. Because he is totally incapable of addressing his love until one day the princess asked frankly. Is it better to speak or die?"
Call Me By Your Name - Elio's Father
Elio’s father in Call Me By Your Name is one of the most powerful characters and has one of the most memorable scenes of the film. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Mr Perlman, and despite not being the biggest name in Hollywood, shows how his brilliant subtleties make him such an admired character actor.
For the most part, Mr Perlman is a background figure, not involved in Elio and Oliver’s relationship, but always there for both characters through their good and bad times. He never specifically finds out about their relationship, however through subtle phrases and interactions it is clear he understands. This comes to a head in the library scene, where Mr Perlman, still not acknowledging the relationship, offers comfort to his son, encouraging him not to shut himself off from his desires as what he had was rare and special.
Most interestingly though is the sexuality of Mr Perlman as well. He is a character with gay friends, a seemingly frustrated wife and he hosts young handsome men at his house each summer. With this Guadagnino exhibits the generation shift of the 1980s, with the father coming from a far more closeted time, while Elio has the hope of a more free and open era. This is one of the ultimate subtle brilliances of the film, as Guadinio says so much through the character of Mr Perlman, without ever having the character really say anything at all.