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).    

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