Call Me by Your Name : An appreciation

The Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is the most luscious movie on celluloid this year. Its nascent adolescent desire, its shivering embrace of sexuality, its echoing melodies and its bucolic visuals makes it an opulent watch.

The story revolve around Elio a 17 year old boy spending his summer with his professor dad and mother in a pastoral paradise in Northern Italy. Every summer his dad invites young scholars to assist him in research and in the summer of 1983 it happens to be Oliver a tall handsome American in his late 20s. The moment Oliver arrives Elio is perturbed , he finds Oliver’s physicality, intelligence and manhood superior to his. He is drawn towards him and at the same time envies him to death. The movies traces Elio’s journey from anger revolt and bitterness to familiarity tenderness and submission not just to Oliver but to love itself.

Guadagnino’s treatment of the love affair is vividly sensuous and at times appallingly audacious but never explicit. He gives his characters their privacy and never exposes them entirely to his audience.

Here i would be discussing the 3 acts of the movie which serve as its foundation and give it a unique vestige in the galore of romantic drama.

Act 1: The Town Square

This is the sequence where Elio expresses love to Oliver. Since Elio has to bridge a distance of 10 years while confessing love to Oliver he is very cautious and talks in cryptic tongue giving space for ambiguity in sentences providing loopholes for him to make an escape if he knows his feelings would not be reciprocated.

Oliver: Is there anything you don’t know?
Elio : I know nothing Oliver , how little I know about things that matter!
Oliver: What things that matter?
Elio : You know what things….
Oliver: Why are you telling me this!
Elio: Because i thought you should know, because i wanted you to know

Then Elio repeats the sentence “ i wanted you to know” again and again slowly and calmly as if he is tasting it. He may have used the sentence before but not in this flavor and definitely not with this emotion.

Guadagnino constructs the scene around a statue where Elio and Oliver stand diagonally opposite each other walking in the same directions. As they walk along the circle they trace the literary nature of their conversation which is indirect and tangential both afraid to express the matter in hand, head on. But all the way knowing that they are going to end up at the same emotion same meaning and same point by the sheer geometry of the circle.

Act 2: The Peach

This scene can radically and perennially alter your perception of the peach fruit. The act has the potency to scar the audience and at the same time the sacredness that can change water to wine.

The lead up to the scene has Elio inside his girlfriend in the afternoon then allowing Oliver to be inside him at midnight; depicting the dialectics of our desires, he wants to fuck and to be fucked, to transform and to be transformed. The movie shows that people do not come in compartments of identity, identities are choices that an individual makes and one does not always has to choose.

But to come in terms with such an amorphous self is a very difficult process and Elio confronts it at age of 17. He is terrified with having to go through so much in terms of emotions and experiences in such a short time. His body has spun out of control and even the next day afternoon he is aroused while eating a peach. He decides to pierce the fruit spilling all the juice upon his torso in the process and then rubs the fruit all over it. He glides further into his shorts jerking as tremors of pleasure arrive on his body and stay until he fills the fruit with his passion. He is then invaded by feelings of shame and repulsion painting the guilt ridden rebellious nature of adolescence.

He falls asleep keeping the seminal fruit beside his bed which reminds one of a great line “If this is the rudiments of paradise he is the wreckage of Adam”

Later woken up by Oliver who kisses him and takes him in his mouth to realize immediately the taste of peaches

Oliver : What did you do?
(Oliver reaches out to the fruit with a smile and Elio is flooded with humiliation)
Elio: I am sick Oliver
Oliver tastes the fruit and tries to eat it
Elio: Please don’t do that ! Please don’t do that ! Why are you doing this to me!
(Elio tries to stop him Oliver holds him back firmly )
Elio: You are hurting me!
Oliver: Then don’t fight!

The scene is the cinematic equivalent of the tent scene in Brokeback Mountain. In the movie after their animal sex in the tent the previous night Heath Ledger is filled with guilt and shame. The next day he stays outside the tent, later only to go to Gyllenhaal in the tent for comfort and to realize that the previous night was about the intimacy that was growing between them for days and not an aberration or a alienation from what is right.

In a similar manner Elio thinks that what he has done is disgusting and abhorrent and blames Oliver for doing this to him. But altogether to immediately realize that he loves Oliver and is overwhelmed crashing completely into Oliver who hugs him with all his might. To contain shame guilt trepidation vulnerability yearning and passion, all in one act makes it a real act of love.

Act 3: The Father

The scene happens after Oliver has parted. Elio’s father (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) is a man with immense sophistication and understanding, who has seen the affair all the way. He delivers a few lines in the most poised and seasoned manner maneuvering around a broken heart with utmost care performing a perfect Kintsugi.

It is mostly a monologue hence i am quoting the essentials here.

“ When you least expect it nature has cunning ways to finding our weakest spot. Right now you may not want to feel anything or maybe you never want to feel anything. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything; what a waste!
How you live your life is your business. Your heart and body is given to you only once. Before you know it your heart is worn out and as for your body there comes a point where no one looks at it , much less want to come near it. Right now there is sorrow and pain don’t kill it and with it the joy you felt.”

As for the performances Armie Hammer as Oliver is restrained poised and powerful. He is stern and inaccessible in the first half of the movie but his vulnerabilities emerge the moment he gives into love. It is a career defining performance by Hammer.

But it is Timothy Chalamet who carries the weight on his slender shoulders not just that of the movie but of the dignity legitimacy sorrows and aspirations of an entire breed of men and women who have been ostracized, humiliated, spat upon and turned way from their homes just because they were true to what they are. To be able to do this at 22 is truly remarkable.

Call me by your name is undoubtedly one of this years best. But like almost all other atypical movies about atypical romances this also ends in tears. Maybe this is inevitable since we live in a society that tolerates but never embraces.



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