Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful film. Director Luca Guadagnino does an exceptional job of making every scene count, and I can see it being nominated for tons of Oscars and even winning a number of them. However, having said that, the story followed a trope which doesn’t necessarily make any sense considering the forward-thinking characters that were shown.
This review of Call Me By Your Name contains spoilers. You have been warned.
I read the book by André Aciman before watching this film. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook if you want Armie Hammer to read it to you. Anyway, the book is a love story about Elio (a 17-year-old American-Italian Jewish boy) and his sexual awakening when Oliver (a 24-year-old American Jewish scholar) comes to visit over the summer. It is set in Italy during the 1980s. Both characters are intellectuals and they play a game of cat-and-mouse trying to understand their feelings for one another.
While the novel chronicles the passionate summer romance as well as follows the characters for 20 years after, the movie adaptation decides to present the story as only a summer romance trope. The screenplay takes us into Elio’s mind (played amazingly by Timothée Chalamet) as he meets Oliver (Armie Hammer) for the first time and tries to make sense of the newcomer. Elio’s emotions feel relatable as he tries to play it cool only to act on his feelings and still being unsure where he stands in Oliver’s eyes.
Oliver, regardless of appearing as someone who is sure of himself, finds Elio shaking his world. Even though he has a very aloof nature, he’s a different person (more vulnerable) when interacting with Elio. It’s a fun dynamic, seeing Elio thinking that Oliver has power over him while Oliver thinks the opposite.
The film takes its time bringing the two characters closer together. However, when the moment finally arrives for the two to be passionate, Luca Guadagnino stops short, which is a far cry from some of his previous more explicit works. The book is extremely romantic and sensual. However, the film feels like a disappointing watered down version.
Now, I get that there’s no need for every film to be explicit. But as far as my opinion goes, if a film about queer people shows a man and woman having sex (down to the moment where the man climaxes), it should show the same amount of intimacy between two men as well.
Even though Call Me By Your Name is a queer-centric film, it does shy away from showing two men being physically intimate with each other, replacing a passionate encounter with a lasting shot of a tree while the two queer characters breathe heavily offscreen. Sigh!
Also, coming to the ‘summer romance’ trope I mentioned earlier, I enjoy coming-of-age queer romance films. I also enjoy films where the queer leads can’t be together due to circumstance. However, in trying to make Call Me By Your Name follow the ‘summer romance’ trope, the screenplay made the characters do things that didn’t make sense to me.
While the film is set in the 1980s, Elio belongs to a family that’s very accepting of his romance with Oliver. There’s an entire scene near the end of the film where Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) talks about how lucky Elio is for finding someone like Oliver. Furthermore, Oliver even mentions how Elio’s parents treated him as a son-in-law. We also get to see Elio’s parents host an elderly gay couple at their Italian residence.
That’s why considering the kind of upbringing Elio had and how Oliver was treated during the summer the fact that the two characters didn’t try to stay in a relationship (even a long distance one until Elio moved to the States or something) didn’t sit right with me. It’s not as if Oliver moved to another planet or forgot Elio’s phone number.
Also, LGBT social movements had been going on for decades before the timeline of this film and that’s why seeing Elio and Oliver not try harder for their love so the movie could follow the ‘summer romance’ trope made me go “meh”!
How am I supposed to think that their love is special and that Oliver was good for Elio, which are things that Elio’s father says (because I guess the film doesn’t necessarily show it to the audience), when the two leads don’t do anything about it?
Even Jack Twist from Brokeback Mountain did everything in his power to be with Ennis. And those two were not surrounded by accepting and loving people, unlike Elio. Even Maurice by James Ivory, who also wrote the screenplay for Call Me By Your Name, had more heart.
That’s why I’m a bit disappointed in the film-adaptation of Call Me By Your Name. Where the book talks about the conflicting feelings experienced by Elio and Oliver, following them even 20 years later while asking what their relationship could’ve been, the film decides to show the story as a summer romance without giving reasons about why the two didn’t try harder if their love was supposed to be special.
The indie-film Weekend did a better job of depicting love and how it changed the main queer leads even though they couldn’t spend too much time with each other.
Luca Guadagnino has shown interest in a sequel and adapting the final chapters of the book. So, hopefully, we’ll get to see Elio and Oliver again with a better on-screen depiction of their love.
Some thoughts and questions!
- I’m not sure about the artistic reason, but I liked how a single fly always appeared in scenes whenever Elio was alone and thinking of Oliver.
- Timothée Chalamet’s scene during the end credits is everything! Give that boy an Oscar or at least a nomination!
- While I like Armie Hammer as an actor, he looked way too old to be playing a young man in his early 20s.
- I’m disappointed in Luca Guadagnino’s decision to shy away from queer-intimate scenes when he’s the kind of director who seems to go all out when handling straight relationships. Sigh!
- I’m tired of the narrative where female characters are used by queer men to figure out their sexuality, get their feelings hurt, and then decide to forgive the queer character way too soon as if nothing happened.
Call Me By Your Name is a beautifully made film and I highly recommend watching it. Not only will the score by Sufjan Stevens continue to stay with you, it’s also a great example of how the right director can make a small-budget film look wonderful.
The next queer indie-film that I’m really looking forward to watching as soon as I get the chance is God’s Own Country which, according to people I’ve talked to, does an impressive job of showing characters facing a number of odds to be together.
Have you had a chance to watch Call Me By Your Name? Which Oscar categories do you think it’ll be nominated for? Let us know.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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