Saturday, December 30, 2017

Call Me By Your Name

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME            B+                
Italy  France  Brazil  USA  (132 mi)  2017  d:  Luca Guadagnino     Official Facebook

A painterly envisioned fantasy of a sunny Italian romance between two young scholars living under the same roof one sun-kissed summer, playing out in languid fashion, using the world of academia as a doorway to get into one another’s pants, seen as an idyllic gay affair taking place within the rural beauty of a small Italian village in the northern Lombardian region, where bicycles seem to lure them away into the undiscovered regions of their imaginations, going on day-long excursions together, discovering tiny roads, each an avenue to unlimited enchantment, literally frolicking in the many diverse swimming holes of the region.  This all plays out like an embellished memory, perhaps too good to be true, as if recalling the most idyllic way to spend a summer rhapsody, where the director of I AM LOVE (2009) seems to make films that always search for that perfect moment.  Less pretentious than his earlier work (actually showing stylistic restraint), this is still an exposé of that unreachable territory that only the super-rich can experience, as who else bides away their time like this, wiling away every summer afternoon as if in suspended animation, in such exotic territory without so much as a single thought shown for what it all costs.  Yet daily, there are sumptuous breakfasts and dinners prepared daily, often eating outside under the trees in an idyllic existence, yet never once do we see anyone shopping for this surplus of food that seems to appear as if by magic.  While there are fruit orchards outside their door, where one can simply pick off the vine to their heart’s content, what we see here is an endless bacchanalian party or feast that seems to never end, but simply extends from one day to the next.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, matters of the flesh go hand in hand with such Dionysian delights, and at least in this film, there are no obstacles in the way, so it’s all fertile territory to explore an idealized gay romance, though this is a gay love story without any traces of actual gay sex, not at all unintentional, by the way, as this is an acclaimed film whose intention is not to turn off a mainstream audience.  Accordingly, one has to acknowledge the intentional inoffensive timidity associated with this choice, as neither character actually identifies with being gay, while it’s an openly gay director (along with gay screenwriter James Ivory) adapting the 2007 work of a straight American author, André Aciman, who grew up in a French-speaking household in Egypt, but never had a gay relationship in his life ("How Can a Straight Man Write So Well about Gay Sex?" by Marritz ...), using straight actors in the prominent roles, so really, this is all a mirage, where nothing is remotely real, yet it’s the year’s most anticipated mainstream gay film, while what is easily the best gay film of the year, Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute) (120 battements par minute) (2017) is clearly overlooked, playing for only a single week in Chicago before leaving the theaters, where few have even had a chance to actually see that film, though it won the Grand Prix (2nd place) at Cannes. 

So this film comes with plenty of fanfare, loads of financial backing, and will be around for months, already nominated for a host of awards, where the book was embraced and beloved by gay audiences around the world, living vicariously through the pages, as it elevates gay love to an anointed status, like a special privilege that goes back to the Greeks, where a Western culture of artistic works filling museums around the world embrace the male figure in all its glory.  Accordingly, the lively opening credit sequence does much the same thing, using sculpture to identify the male human anatomy, like pictures from a museum exhibit, identifying what will become the centerpiece of the story.  Despite all this foreshadowing, the film is set in a heterosexual world, where gays are blatantly laughed at and ridiculed in the only appearance of an older outwardly gay couple in the film, that happens to include, oddly enough, author André Aciman, showing the cruel and intolerant mentality of the times.  Designed as an overly sensuous experience throughout, mostly shot in the director’s hometown of Crema, Lombardy, the sumptuous cinematography is provided by none other than Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who shot Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films up until his Cannes Palme d’Or winning UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (2010), most recently shooting the Miguel Gomes ARABIAN NIGHTS TRILOGY (2015).  Set in the recent past of 1983, an era without Internet or cellphones, where the intellect was challenged by serious reading, which is the main pastime throughout all seasons of the year, with characters forever holding books in their hands wherever they go, much as people today remain connected to their cellphones.  At the outset, a young American graduate student arrives, Armie Hammer as Oliver, though he will forever be associated as the Winklevoss twins in David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010).  He is greeted by the host family, including Michael Stuhlbarg as a noted Professor of Archaeology and his multi-lingual wife, Amira Casar (a British actress who speaks French through most of the film), in what is a summer tradition at their cozy villa in the countryside, where the newly arrived guest takes the room of their moody introspective teenage son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet, among the best performances of the year), who moves to a guest room next door, sharing an adjoining bathroom.  At first put off by his overconfidence and perceived arrogance, as the guy is perfect in every way, the attraction of all eyes, including a brief scene playing volleyball, Call Me by Your Name clip YouTube (1:13), or later in the town square on the dance floor to the music of The Psychedelic Furs - Love My Way - YouTube (3:31), which plays again at the end of the film in an entirely different context, where he quickly picks up a young girl closer to Elio’s age, smitten by his good looks.  While they are polar opposites, as Oliver is an extrovert that loves to be the center of attention, Elio is more of a shy bookworm, though he is happily in the midst of a summer fling with a cute French girl his age, Marzia (Esther Garrel), who also comes each summer to visit.

With shirtless male torso’s as the featured attraction, almost always accompanied by wearing shades, the typical means of transport is riding bikes, either into town to run errands or dawdling through the countryside, as “the boys” spend more time together, taking long walks or going swimming in a nearby stream, with the film eventually identifying with a coming-of-age Elio, much of it wordlessly, as he exhibits a stream-of-conscious yearning and starts fantasizing about Oliver, smelling his clothes, even his swimming trunks while masturbating (which he does often), eventually developing an unmistakable chemistry together that does not go unnoticed.  What’s perhaps more surprising is how they are mirror images of one another, with nearly identical intellects, yet Elio is clearly the younger and more tender version, where his youthful exuberance is reflected through impressionistic piano music, playing various versions of a Bach chorale, literally his interpretation of different composer’s styles, Johann Sebastian Bach - Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV 140, W ... YouTube (5:14), or the more jubilant, 01 - Hallelujah Junction - 1st movement - John Adams (Call ... - YouTube (7:10), while various interludes by Satie or Ravel play throughout, offering a dreamlike feel of erupting emotions.  While a few kisses are exchanged, Oliver doesn’t wish to lead the kid on, thinking discretion is required, as he’s a guest.  But all that changes in a brief little scene that hints at more, Call me by your name clip "You know what things"  YouTube (1:30), with Oliver leaving a note to meet him in his bedroom at midnight.  All through the day, time couldn’t be more lethargic for Elio, as it seems to be standing still, never approaching the bewitching hour, so he spends the day with Marzia, actually having sex with her for the very first time, feeling transported and exhilarated, yet all that is just the appetizer for the main course, which is expressed through youthful enthusiasm and a sense of urgency, very much in a Romeo and Juliet mode, enraptured by first love, accentuated by the soft, acoustical indie music of Sufjan Stevens, Mystery of Love - Sufjan Stevens (Full Version) - YouTube (4:06), which adds a poetic tinge in the air.  Strangely, Oliver invites him to call out their own names during sex, which becomes their identifier, a secret code for their intimacy, as if what they’re really in love with is themselves.  This kind of idealized love continues, spending Oliver’s last few days together in a nearby picturesque town where they can go hiking up to a magnificent waterfall, all eloquently presented, where the idea is accepting oneself in harmony with the natural world, rarely coming together with this kind of youthful ecstasy, before sending Oliver back to America on a train.  Heartbroken and unable to contain his feelings, Elio has to reenter the world as a changed person, transformed into something new, but as a kid, he’s not sure what that is.  Arguably the best scenes come near the end, where Elio has a talk with his father, who is fully aware of what transpired, encouraging his son to wholeheartedly embrace the experience, as it’s something rare, especially when both participants are so intelligent and “good,” where he’s urged to “remember everything.”  It’s a stunner of an acceptance speech, equally rare, as this father is accepting of his son no matter what happens, where the final scene is equally captivating, layered in a gorgeous wintry snow falling outside the windows, with a longheld shot of Elio’s consternated face that plays all the way through the end credits, sitting tearfully in front of a bristling fire, where anyone who has lost a love can surely identify, playing out with a remarkably expressive poetic tenderness, with echoes of Sufjan Stevens intensifying the personal anguish, Visions of Gideon - YouTube (4:07).    

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Top Ten List #8 BPM (Beats Per Minute (120 battements par minute)

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (120 battements par minute)          A-                   
aka:  120 Beats Per Minute
France  (144 mi)  2017  ‘Scope  d:  Robin Campillo              Official Site [France]

Campillo is known for being the writer of Laurent Cantet films, including TIME OUT (2001), HEADING SOUTH (2005), or Cantet’s Palme d’Or winning film The Class (Entre Les Murs) (2008), but BPM (Beats Per Minute) recalls the director’s own experiences in the early 1990’s working alongside other social activists from Act Up-Paris in their attempt to demand public knowledge and awareness about the AIDS epidemic in France, with more new people diagnosed HIV positive in France than any other European nation at the time, fueling anger and personal indignation at the government’s more cautious go slow policy which was allowing too many afflicted people to die.  Very ironic that in Chicago, both BPM and Ruben Östlund’s The Square, two films from Cannes that vied for the top prize, with Östlund’s film winning the coveted Palme d’Or (1st place) and Campillo’s BPM winning the Grand Prix (2nd place), opened in the same theater, with the Palme d’Or winning film screening in the big theater, while Campillo’s film was relegated to the small theater and vanished after one week.  This is the kind of disrespect that will forever accompany this film, unfortunately, all based on a rather arbitrary decision taking place by a Cannes jury headed by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, but also including German director Maren Ade (whose 2016 film Toni Erdmann was snubbed the previous year), Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, South Korean film director Park Chan-wook, American actress Jessica Chastain, French actress Agnès Jaoui, American actor Will Smith, Italian film director Paolo Sorrentino, and French-Lebanese musical composer Gabriel Yared.  The decision was no doubt based on a compromise of nine people, with Almodóvar getting choked up at a post awards press conference when asked point blank how he, a champion of LGBT rights, could not award BPM top prize, POST PALMARES - Press Conference - EV - Cannes 2017 - YouTube (25:37, coming at about the 15:50 mark), with Almodóvar in broken English acknowledging, “I loved the movie. I cannot love more.  I was touched since the very beginning till absolutely the end and after the end, but I don’t know.  Tomorrow, perhaps, we will read in the papers what the rest of the audience and journalists think.  This is a very democratic jury.  I am the ninth part of this jury.  So this is the only thing I can tell you.  The huge majority of us loved the movie of Campillo.  I’m sure it’s going to be very successful everywhere.  And I’m sure it’s going to remind this country of something that happened here not so many years ago that, whether you belong to the LGBT, which I am, it was an injustice.  Campillo tells the story of real heroes, that we saved many lives.  We all agree with that.” (Personally, I blame Will Smith and an anti-gay prejudice, as echoed by his opening remarks at that press conference making an ill-advised joke about Almodóvar’s predatory practices.  It was not funny, he did not apologize, and I’m guessing he played a significant role in undermining the film, probably supported by the Chinese, Korean, and Arab contingency, who come from predominately anti-gay cultures.  Very unfortunate.  I’m guessing Almodóvar’s support came from Chastain and Jaoui, with Sorrentino on the fence, and maybe Ade and the others preferring The Square.)

Having seen both films, it’s hard to believe that Cannes, once again, picked the wrong film.  While Östlund’s is the far flashier and more entertaining film, comically absurd and satirically relevant, with larger commercial prospects, it’s a much more overblown effort, using cruelty as comedy, feeling more like a frontal assault on modern practices, accentuating the sheepish behavior of the norm, suggesting complacency leads to an overall cowardice in Western democratic societies to actually stand up for what’s right, forcing others to fight your battles for you.   Campillo’s film, on the other hand, is a more urgent, harrowing tale, bravely confronting life and death issues in a nation that doesn’t want to hear, showcasing a community that was at that time in history largely marginalized and misunderstood, where they literally had no heroes or role models, with news agencies suppressing their message, when there is literally no one else on the front lines offering help and assistance, where it is entirely up to these few.  This is a rare film that remains personal, rising to a level of poignancy but never overreaching into melodrama, where the eye-opening revelation is viewing a crucial part of history through the eyes of gay activists themselves as they are making that history, actually memorializing an era before the advent of protease inhibitor drugs that stopped death from being a foregone conclusion, including the heated discussions of their meetings, which are often bitterly confrontational, pitting activist militancy against more diplomatic measures, where we’re witness to outlandish guerilla tactics against indifferent pharmaceutical companies designed to force them to share the latest scientific research while heightening public awareness, including a festive party atmosphere afterwards to let off steam, dancing in strobe-lit dance clubs to the pulsating techno score of Arnaud Rebotini, where this film is also not afraid to include open displays of affection, including graphic sexual encounters, something that would never happen in American films.  The film is extremely articulate, introducing a host of characters, yet the authenticity of the script is vividly striking, eventually narrowing its scope and focusing on a single love affair, with heartbreaking results.  The French response was about a decade after the American AIDS crisis of the 80’s, where the Reagan administration refused to adequately fund research to stop the epidemic, where there are similarities between this work and American playwright Larry Kramer’s 1985 play The Normal Heart, as Kramer is himself a gay activist and founder of HIV advocacy groups, like Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), taking it upon himself to warn society about AIDS even before it had officially been given a name.  The French have more awareness about the disease and model many of their activist ideas from the American model.  

Perhaps nothing has the definitive reach of Tony Kushner’s two-part play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, one of the defining works of American art and culture, which premiered in the early 90’s, with the first part (Millennium Approaches) winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993, dominating the Tony awards for two years in a row, 1993 and 1994, putting gays center stage at a time when they were openly discriminated against and living under siege (has that changed?), literally changing the way gays are perceived around the world.  What Campillo’s film does is also humanize the participants, developing a fictionalized story that finds a gay community in the midst of an identity crisis, with people bewildered by what to do, reading everything they can coming out in medical journals, trying to learn the latest drug strategies, what’s effective, what are the side effects, desperately searching for anything to stop the slow deterioration of healthy T Cells in the human body, all in an attempt to stop the flow of humans dying, where Campillo reminds us what a wrenching experience it is to witness those around you slowly dying.  Unlike the cowardice and timidity of other highly acclaimed gay love stories like Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name (2017) that don’t even show any sex scenes for fear of turning off a mainstream audience, this film shows the incredible courage of those gay lovers at the time who remained intimate, graphic sex scenes included, even without knowing the full ramifications of their actions.  The first part shows the collective efforts of those galvanizing forces at work, not just the contentious arguments, but the practice of welcoming new members, where everyone is recognized as HIV positive (even if they’re not), teaching them the rules of discussion (no applause, only the clicking of fingers), figuring out the most effective public strategies, including what’s likely to get television airplay, deciding what words on posters are more effective, what areas of the city to target, what visible actions they should carry out at the Gay Pride Celebration, and most importantly, how to get the Mitterrand government to take their cause more seriously.  At the meetings we are introduced to Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), one of the radical voices, and Nathan (Arnaud Valois), one of the new members, and one of few who is HIV negative.  The leader of the discussions is Thibault (Antoine Reinartz), always negotiating a balancing act between opposite extremes, while Sophie (Adèle Haenel) seems to lead the street campaigns.  In the latter part of the film an intense relationship develops between Nathan and Sean, as we witness in devastating fashion the deteriorating health of Sean, where one of the saddest scenes ever witnessed is watching sex with a patient who is already so close to death, as if that is his last ounce of strength.  An unstated aspect of the film that seems particularly important to recognize is the degree of affection on display between gay friends, not just in a relationship, but towards others who are experiencing adverse health effects, as the film fully empathizes with them and always recognizes their emotional ups and downs, along with their deflated spirit, exhibiting a tenderness and quiet kindness, as these are truly people in crisis, where their frequent arrests and bold actions at the time opened the door for others to walk through completely unscathed.