' ' Cinema Romantico: Call Me by Your Name

Monday, February 05, 2018

Call Me by Your Name

There is something about the way people move in “Call Me by Your Name.” As Oliver, a 24 year old intern to an archaeological professor over an Italian summer in 1983, Armie Hammer imbues an acute sense of his character being at home in his body, dismounting his bike before it’s come to a stop with sinuous ease, and walking in a way that does not so much suggest a mere walk as a free and easy amble. And in the sure to be iconic scene where he loses himself on the dance floor to The Psychedelic Furs, Hammer virtually breathes in the song to exhale it through his uninhibited groove. Timothée Chalamet, on the other hand, playing Elio, the 17 year old son of the archaeological professor, moves with a more clumsy limber suggesting that at any moment he might topple, and sometimes he does topple into bed in this way distinctly evoking jaded teenagedom, though that clumsiness also manifests itself just as much in sudden bursts of gangly self-confidence, like the little half-dance move he sometimes breaks out while skedaddling throughout his family villa. These body movements are not just keys to the characters but emblematic of the entire film, one where the emotional is tied into the physical, and where the physical often supersedes the verbal. Because even if these characters are generally intellectual and articulate, the time in which they exist mostly prevents them from literally espousing their tricky feelings.

Those feelings are tricky because Elio, befitting his age, so often just seems to be riding in the wake of his hormones. If he is initially put off by his family’s houseguest exhibiting casual American crudeness, bidding adieu by remarking “Later”, Elio nevertheless begins feeling corporeal twinges in Oliver’s presence, evoked by director Luca Guadagnino not just in stolen touches, like a clap on the back, but also the weird intensity with which Oliver devours a soft-boiled egg and glugs apricot juice. And Elio doesn’t so much gradually let his guard down as blurt out how he feels to Oliver, a scene that Guadagnino films in one long, circular take where the two men hop off their bikes and circle the town piazza as Oliver explains it’s something society at large will not permit them to discuss, before getting back on their bikes like nothing happened, as if going back to square one. No doubt that’s why each of them has a dalliance with a woman, though Oliver’s feels more like keeping up appearances while Elio’s impermanent relationship with Marzia (Esther Garrel) exists as unformed exploration.

Nature, though, has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot, which is not my analysis but the analysis of Elio’s dad (Michael Stuhlbarg), and proven right by what transpires. The landscape itself, from beatific blue-green water to the lush countryside, is so sensually overwhelming that it almost feels illusory, which the opening title card “Somewhere in Northern Italy” evokes, and Guagdnino revels in it so much that when Oliver and Elio go for a bike ride, at one point the camera whirls right past hem, less interested in the characters then the greenery. And when they are finally aroused to the point of action, it happens in a mountain spring, born of cold water from the Alps, as if that water is the lifeblood fueling their desire to stop worrying and go for it.

When they do, however, Guadagnino regrettably becomes coy. If he generally prefers wide and medium shots of Oliver and Elio rather than reverting to individual close-ups, as if granting them a semblance of privacy away from the audience, he chooses to maintain that distance even in romantic encounters, artfully tilting away whenever the titillation threatens to become too much, and hanging back when the action threatens to become too graphic. It might be excusable, even, if in Elio and Marzia’s love scenes we did not see everything. If this movie seeks to push back against antiquated notions, it is most unfortunate to see such outdated aesthetic choices at the moments of truth, which might not hamper the arc of the characters but nevertheless crucially robs it of sensory truth. All this seems to congeal in the dainty Sufjan Stevens theme song which feels more evocative of a YA sort of summer fling than the more voluptuous one that The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” suggests.

That song is repeated in Elio and Oliver’s final scenes together, a trip to nearby Bergamo, one the movie smartly turns into an anti-climactic denouement, intrinsically suggesting the relationship as ephemeral, which is how it so often is in youth, gone before you can even emotionally grasp it because you haven’t accrued the years to afford perspective. But that’s why the movie carves out space at the conclusion for a show-stopping speech. Elio’s father, and his wife Annella (Amira Casar), dance around the film’s edges throughout, never explicitly acknowledging what seems to be right in front of them but making clear that they know what’s up in the space of an expression or vocal inflection, giving their blessing by the mere act of not acting at all. Their place in the movie, however, never fills all the way in until the end, when Elio’s father employs a confession not as a means to tell his son to seize the day but simply mentally embrace what happened before it passes him by. And that’s what Elio essentially does in the concluding close-up over the closing credits, one that I sort of wish might have granted him the privacy that perhaps should have been compromised elsewhere, a privacy his parents do give him in the same moment, to gather his thoughts and then carry on.

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