CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. Slowly and with commitment
I perfectly remember my disappointment after Luka Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash (2016) – the absolutely visually mesmerizing, brilliantly played psychodrama was a bit lame at the story level. What in the previous film by the Italian did not allow me to fully appreciate his skills, in the film Call Me By Your Name (2017) was replaced by a fully engaging story, flowing slowly for the full 132 minutes of the screening.
In adapting the acclaimed novel by André Aciman, Guadagnino replaced one of the greatest experts in the field of literary screen adaptations, James Ivory. However, the almost 90-year-old master’s participation in this project did not end after this change – the creator of Room with a View (1985) is the author of the screenplay for Call Me By Your Name. And now he must be extremely proud of his colleague, who is over 40 years his junior, because Guadagnino coped with the extremely sensual, vivid, but also demanding literary material no worse than Ivory himself would have done. It would even be reasonable to say that the change in the director’s chair was good for this project – the classicist American was replaced by a postmodern European who seems to perfectly sense the entire range of emotions associated with youthful desire.
Bathed in Rohmer poetics, Call Me By Your Name tell the story of the multinational Perlman family: a professor specializing in Greek-Roman culture (the wonderful Michael Stuhlbarg), his beautiful and liberated wife (Amira Casar) and their resolute 17-year-old son Elio (impossibly brilliant Timothée Chalamet), portraying their holiday everyday life in a villa in the Lombard province. The Perlmans, as befits extremely open and sociable representatives of the intelligentsia, invite a talented student every summer to spend six weeks doing research and conversing with a respected professor. Elio is not enthusiastic about this tradition, but when American Oliver (Armie Hammer) moves into their mansion during the summer of 1983, Elio becomes fascinated by the intriguing visitor.
Guadagnino does everything necessary to make us see Oliver as an insecure teenager might see him. The frog perspective and additional illumination of Hammer’s powerful figure make the viewers believe after some time that it is not a man, but a demigod who bathes in a backyard pond and travels the streets of a nearby town on a stylish bicycle. The director brings Aciman’s sensual descriptions to life in a wildly attractive way, evoking in the viewer a desire to immediately move to the warm regions of Bergamo. More importantly, however, Guadagnino does not flatten the relationship between the two main characters: Elio and Oliver play an emotional game for a long time, initially deliberately discouraging each other. Even though they spend a lot of time together, it is only after some time that they decide to take a risk and start an adventure together. Yes, adventure is a good word, because in those days, those nights in the relationship of two lovers, romance is just one element of an emotionally complex relationship.
The character of Oliver is for Elio not only an object of desire, not only a confidant, but also a mentor and friend, someone to whom the shyly entering adulthood, but already very mature young man decides to open his heart. In the conversations of the two men, one can feel not only well-read and intelligent, but also a huge mutual respect – their chats resemble short duels, a test of strength that is to set the boundaries of this relationship. The mutual fascination of the characters is finally consummated in the face of the blissful ignorance of the parents and the despair of the pretty young lady with whom Elio experienced his first love ecstasy. Although the teenager is aware that Oliver’s stay at the Perlman family home will soon end, he lets himself be carried away by youthful feelings, regardless of the consequences of such a decision. For several dozen minutes, we watch on the screen the purest form of feeling, manifested not only in physical love, but in being together in every possible way.
The Italian province of Guadagnino is a place where many of us would like to spend our holidays. The sun is man’s best friend, and leisurely time is spent equally pleasantly bicycling as reading classic philosophers. This provincial landscape is as romantic as it is unreal – it exists only for a moment, as long as Elio and Oliver’s happy relationship lasts. When the time of parting comes, those days, those nights immediately become a colder, more real film. And when we think that after Hammer’s disappearance from the screen, nothing better will happen in Guadagnino’s film, the father of the main character gives us one of the most beautiful monologues in the history of cinema, and certainly the greatest among father monologues. Michael Stuhlbarg could be nominated for an Oscar for this few-minute scene.
The final sequence of Call Me By Your Name differs from the ending of the novel, but it also has a different role – it is supposed to be Elio’s final entry into adulthood and a bitter summary of a whole year in the teenager’s life. When Timothée Chalamet looks straight at the camera in the final shot, we already know that the hero of this excellent story has also lost his innocence with Oliver’s departure.