“Call Me by Your Name”
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Let’s get the superlatives out of the way to start so you won’t kill me for the rest of what I’m about to say. “Call Me by Your Name” is beautiful, heart-tugging and affecting. Okay?
So, with that out of the way, let me tell you how I really feel about the film. Without Michael Stuhlbarg’s bit at the end, “Call Me By Your Name” is quite simply a pretty good remake of about twenty French films from the seventies. This is not at ALL a bad thing. I just don’t feel it reaches the heights that many others will tell you it does. Ten different critics from the Hollywood Reporter put it at one, two or three in their Top Ten lists. TEN!
The great thing about the arts, and especially cinema, is that artistic offerings affect everyone in different ways…so allow me to give you an alternative view. This film, which is beautifully shot, and fairly well-written, puts the languid back in…languid. We witness the same dirt road, lake, pond, village square and back yard over and over. The film is like a bicycle travelogue between a house and a village. I wondered why director Guaragnino (whose only previous feature was “A Bigger Splash”) didn’t take more advantage of the Tuscan landscape. Not until the scene shifts to Germany do we get a sense of the characters’ place in the greater universe, which is when the film finally sings. This is almost two hours in to the film, by the way.
Also, please don’t hate me, but if you think the film’s dialogue and side characters aren’t reminiscent of much of Woody Allen’s later European-era dramas like “Vicky Christina Barcelona” or “Match Point”, you aren’t paying attention.
And the “relationship” in the film, in the long overdue #MeToo environment we currently reside, is kinda creepy and borderline illegal (especially in light of the Kevin Spacey allegations and admissions). And since the film is told in the present tense, and not as a wistful memory or reminiscence by one of the participants (as it is in the novel), it is a creepiness that’s kinda hard to shake – especially in the rear-view mirror. And the fact that a sequel has already been announced makes it even more strange that Ivory and Guadagnino didn’t frame it differently. Oh, for the record, this feeling has NOTHING to do with the nature of the relationship. It wouldn’t matter who the affair was between…it only matters that one is a grown person and the other is still a growing child. I suppose by keeping it firmly planted in “a time when things were different”, 1982, screenwriter James Ivory (champion of all things slowly told) hoped he could avoid this reaction, and keep it the soft-focus tone-poem most critics seem to think it is. I’m not saying that’s a reason to avoid the film, but it is a feeling that can’t be easily shook – and could have been easily mended.
Finally, I wondered who the film is about, because if you ask me, I left pretty damned sure that the entire film is about Michael Stuhlbarg’s character…that the first two acts and the entire relationship exist just for his loving, heartbreaking and devastating final few comments. THAT’S where the power in this film is…and we could have gotten there much sooner. Then again (and I suppose this is the counter to my argument) you could do a LOT worse than spend a couple hours watching these two fall in love in Italy.
On the plus side is the fact that this film, a film about love in all its nascent forms…a film about hiding, overcoming, coming out..a film about watching two lovers simply BE (albeit in a very progressive environment)…a film distributed like a big Hollywood picture, is being accepted as mainstream culture. How lovely that this film is not being construed as groundbreaking because it’s a same sex couple. That this no longer “shocks” us in Hollywood films is, indeed, a reason to celebrate and perhaps proof that films like “Moonlight” will no longer be an exception.
And it IS a lovely film to look at. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s photography is gorgeous…each frame filled with a yellow glaze or tint, even at night or indoors. He somehow manages to make incredibly beautiful people even more beautiful – then again that may simply be the Tuscan sun. And the music is made up of a dozen (or so) lovely solo piano pieces. These are not your usual classical selections. For instance, one seemed oddly familiar, and it took me a good ten minutes to realize it was Ryuichi Sakomoto, from his brilliant score, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”. It may seem obvious, but out of it’s orchestral context it had new life. Overall, it’s a great selection of music and it works well.
But let’s get to the acting. As I previously mentioned, Michael Stuhlbarg is, for me, the draw here…but you won’t realize it for most of the film. A kooky, embarrassing and loving parent, it’s a very real character. Armie Hammer is quite good. I wasn’t wowed like some have been, but, nonetheless, he carries his side of this affair with as much sincerity as one can. Timothee Chalomet, whom I did not particularly like in “Lady Bird”, is pretty great here…interestingly in the same sort of way Saoirse Ronan was in that film. Excited, bored, searching, and terrified, it’s a tour de force of teenage acting. Everything we feel about him is because he seems to actually be living it for the first time in front of us. Lovely. And kudos to Esther Garrel, his French girlfriend. Also a terrific performance.
So, okay…all my misgivings aside (numerous as they may be), you’ll probably love this film. And, as it’s a pretty good bet to win a LOT of awards (Golden Globes for sure…they love anything that takes place in western Europe, and, lucky for Guadagnino, “All the Money In the World” is a mess of a film), you should see it. It will go down as a very important film – as long as the sequel doesn’t cheapen what makes this one powerful. But for me? Alas, I couldn’t seem to get out of my own way.
(NSFW trailer – well, R-rated, anyway)
Written on 12/27/2017