Adding my voice to the already extremely vocal cyber din that surrounds Call Me By Your Name has me bolting my door, changing my name (ahem…) and wearing a just-barely-fit-for-the-public Sia wig.
Because: I’m still not sure about it…
Admittedly, when confronted with unanimous public adoration, my first instinct is to swim upstream. In this case, Luca Guadagnino’s telling of the eponymous novel by Andre Aciman took to the festival circuit like — well, like a fish to water. The tepid pools of both major and minor film festivals saw Call Me By Your Name being recognised in many of the Tier One categories; Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Feature — all the ones we actually pay attention to. And, in fact, it won many of them.
A long-time fan of Guadagnino’s since being enchanted by his operatic Io Sono Amore (2009), starring Tilda Swinton as an aristocratic, repressed wife of a Milanese industrialist, I was extremely enthusiastic to see what he would do with this story.
In diligent preparation I read the book while touring in Stockholm, and southern Sweden in the late Scandinavian summer. I had only the most romantic orchestral music playing in my headphones while lazing beside idyllic ravines and occasionally lifting my chin to see impossibly beautiful, androgynous Swedish couples float by on bicycles or on pure air alone. I read about Elio’s intense, all-consuming adolescent desire for a mysterious and charming stranger who has come to visit at his family’s palatial Italian villa. I could relate his emotional whiplash to that of my own as a teenage boy (and probably three or four occasions in my adulthood, too). Both Elio and Oliver are Hebrews and homosexuals in equal measure. Every single thing was perfectly set in place for me to be viscerally attached to the anguish he feels at Oliver’s every “Later!”. And yet, I was left checking my watch during the entire 120 minutes.
The core of my internal conflict can be boiled down to the question of Millennial apathy. That is to ask: Is sincerity a narrative feature that we find palatable anymore? I desperately want to believe it is.
In particularly venomous moments I found myself seeing parallels between Elio Perlman and Bella Swan, the ‘Juliet’ in Stephenie Meyer’s’ Twilight saga. As an amateur academic I believe one should engage with material before damning it. That said, I have seen and hated all of the Twilight movies (‘films’ seems like a compliment in this context). A seemingly unkind comparison, but the more I analyse the two principal characters I see more of the same: a feature-length film of a solo game of he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not. With every petal plucked; Costume: he loves me; Direction: he loves me not; Casting: he loves me; Pacing: he loves me not; Acting: he loves me; and I’m still left with a plain bud that I’m not sure what to do with.
However, it is a beautiful film. The Italian idyll, the sun kissed bodies of the leads, their performances — it all makes for a no-brainer stunning piece of art. Perhaps, then, the silk catches on the splinter of the story. Much like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own Daisy, I’m left thinking that the best thing a film can be in this world is a beautiful fool; one that has everything going for it, yet lacks an essential core of substance.
The film had no powerful coda, the largest contribution came from the ancillary characters (would a shout out to Mr Perlman and his incredibly moving monologue about fearlessly authentic and vulnerable love be too late at this point?), and the biggest noise about the film came from its soundtrack by Sufjan Stevens.
I did not commit the Mortal Sin of seeing the film before reading the book. I am, myself, a Jew. I am, myself, gay. And I am, myself, also entirely devoted to Armie Hammer. So why didn’t I love it as much as the world seems to?
As I demurely don my peroxided wig that covers any defining feature of my face, and sign my name “A. P. Thetic” in a letter to my parents bidding them a long and happy life without their youngest son, I approach an answer: It was just alright. Not great, not terrible, just alright.