Combining elements of an independent film’s rawness and the influence of European cinema’s laid back tone, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is a melancholic vision of a coming of age/coming out/first love/forbidden love narrative, all together, wrapped in an excellent storytelling, powered by perfectly tuned performances by Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlberg.
Set in Northern Italy, 1983, the film follows the summer of young Elio (Chalamet) who meets one of his father’s graduate students, Oliver (Hanmer) in their summer house. The film travels through the middle of the tension and restraint of the two, which ultimately leads to a passionate and wild love affair that had them question their characters, their principles, and ultimately their lives.
Luca Guadagnino’s approach to this passionate love story is very heated yet subtle, as if the entire film awaits for a kettle of water to boil and scream. It thoroughly reflects the agony of an itch that has been yearning to be satisfied — from the tension of their apathetic yet suggestive touch, to them occupying the same bedroom divided by a bathroom. The entire film is a cliffhanger of what it feels before finally diving in to your sensuality. Both the sexual hunger and frustration, along with the confusing emotions that come along with it from a young teenager’s perspective, radiate to the audience impeccably, credits in huge part to Guadagnino’s purposely restrained direction and Chalamet’s commitment to his character’s honesty.
THE THEORY OF SPACE
Space played a vital role in the film, particularly on how the characters behave and how they react to the circumstances they are in. Notice that a vast majority of the film took place in Northern Italy, where the streets are narrow and the buildings are shooting to the sky, as if these characters are being enveloped onto a dimension where they are imprisoned by their own hometown. Notice how restricted they interact when they are in the portals of their home enclosed in walls and tight spaces; how a single touch on the ear and a single glance meant as if they are already consuming each other. Most of the scenes where they are able to breathe in and let out their emotions take place beside an open window — the moment where they decided to meet up at midnight; the first time the made love; and the moment they confessed why neither gave a sign. The open window served as an escapade from the imprisonment in their own homes. We can also recall that Elio first saw Oliver at his open window, which suggests the liberal possibilities of what the outside world has for him.
The scene where Elio finally confesses that he likes Oliver took place outdoors, yet they are separated by a statue in a roundabout fence — this suggests that this confession led to the fear of judgment, separation and distance. Both walked onto the entire circle finally meeting at the end where Oliver says “we can’t talk about it here” — suggesting the difficulty of avoiding taboo when restricted in their confinement. Take note that the story took place in 1983 — an era where people aren’t that liberal when it comes to homsexuality. The entire space of their town represent that closeminded society back in the day.
As soon as both had the opportunity to hit a vacation to Bergamo, the tone finally shifted from tight to free. The scene where both got off the train and ran on to the mountains, screaming with liberty, suggests their freedom to finally express what they feel — free from bars and enclosed spaces. This is also why Elio took Oliver to the top of the mountain for their first kiss, where there’s not a single sign of industrialization in the area. They are one with the nature, as raw as they are letting themselves be.
THE ‘PEACH’ SCENE
The scene where Elio masturbated through the hole of a pitted peach suggests how he tries to drive himself away from his homosexual tendencies. By general definition, peaches are usually associated with female sexuality. With the thought of Oliver leaving soon, Elio tries to go back to his old preference. However, it was apparent how quick his orgasm was and how fast he came, without really showing that he was able to enjoy or be passionate with it. It was one of those sexual encounters where you just get it over with. He falls asleep and doesn’t even take time to feel and savor the experience. That confirms that he is no longer interested in women; he is interested with Oliver.
The next scene where Oliver enters the room and tries to give Elio a head, clearly baffled by peach juice in his penis, he then questions “what did you do?” A question that resonates not just literally fucking a peach, but an interrogation of “has he gone straight again?” This question embarassed Elio; he breaks down, and says “I don’t want you to leave”. No matter how much he tries to distract himself by going back to his taste for women, he cannot cover the fact that it Oliver that he wants.
THE LAYERS OF GENERATION
Both Elio and Oliver are Gen X. Gen X are born at a time where everyone is slowly shifting societal values, but not quite all the way. This is the reason why they may have tested the waters on their feet, but they haven’t completely dove onto a relationship that they could have. This supports the decision as to why Oliver then marries a woman. Homosexuality in Gen X is considered a phase.
Elio’s father gave a beautiful monlogue by the end of the film, telling his son how beautiful and rare the affair he had with Oliver, because he himself wasn’t able to experience that. In a nutshell, he confesses that he is indeed homosexual, but wasn’t able to experience it himself unlike his son. Elio’s father is a member of the Baby Boomers generation, the one preceding Gen X. Baby Boomers are just basically traditional. Technically, Gen X with the societal values they eradicated. Homosexuality in the Baby Boomers generation is not just considered a phase; it is taboo that has to he resisted by all means.
Note that the film took place in 1983 where millennials (or the most open minded of them all) are just starting to be born. If the story took place in the present time with both protagonists as millennials, the ending could have been completely different. Both the characters’ decisions at the end of the film relied on the cultural and societal values that their generation beholds.
Another great film in reference to this theory is Maurice (1987) directed by James Ivory, who happens to be the screenwriter of Call Me By Your Name. That film tackled a completely different and much older era inhabited by the Silent Generation — a lot more conservative and a lot more traditional, wherein homosexuality isn’t just a simple taboo; it’s a crime.
THE TITLE’S OWNERSHIP
Overall, Call Me By Your Name will make you feel exactly what the title suggests. A sense of ownership to the characters, even by just saying their names, they belong to one another although they could never be together. A gesture as simple as bestowing your name to your lover is the only way you could own someone in an era that you could never do such. The film is well-tempered, exquisitely shot, emotionally written (but with brilliant subtlety), and honestly acted. It’s just too real. One of the best films of 2017.