THE FACT THAT James Ivory’s screenplay for Call Me By Your Name got this year’s Oscar nod seems like the Academy Awards was trying to bend over backwards for LGBTI issues. The irony is that this pretty, pretty film, which goes under the guise of being LGBTI-sensitive, nay erotic, is about nothing more than a gay relationship seen through a cisgender prism. And instead of a message about happy, valiant love, in a world where it’s all taboo, you get one about dishonesty and stealth, punting the women in the tale as foils for sexual frustration rather than real characters.
When you see the trailer of the work, you may believe that this is the most perfect, idiosyncratic little maverick piece of filmography ever. And set in some Italian village in the 1980s, it bears the kind of quirky rural iridescence that is present in The Durrells, a 2017 British series set on the island of Corfu, all replete as it is with ripe fruit and growing olives. But as the plot unfolds, red herrings sprout up from all corners of the narrative tossing Greek sculptures from Antiquity to the wind and leaving you primarily with a story about lust in its most direct reflection, even sweeping aside issues of sexuality.
A sultry, sulky, beautiful 17-year-old named Elio (Timothée Chalamet) gets all itchy with lust for a person at least 10 years older than him (Armie Hammer), Oliver, who has come to work as a research assistant with Elio’s dad (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology. It takes a while for Elio to get his leg over, but then there’s no turning back. And indeed, had this couple been heterosexual, the plot would not have shifted.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the beauty of sex being represented on screen, but once the sex in this film begins, all else collapses by way of character definition, plot, pragmatic constants or anything else, and you find yourself between the penises, the hands and the mouths of exquisite young men, over and over and over again. It’s not explicit in the crass sense, but much of the work is sacrificed in the name of delicate, urgent whispers cast over sweaty sheets.
It’s lust so direct and unsubtle that the story cannot but end tragically, but you’re not equipped for the hairpin bend that brings confessions of the father’s personal failures into the mix. When you’re 17, are you fully formed enough to understand the complexities of “being in love” or is it just about jerking off into a nectarine? When you’re 17, how do issues of ultimate betrayal look? Which brings you to puzzle the value of this film.
From another angle, when you’re telling a story and your central protagonist is 17 and gay and it’s the horrendous 1980s where Aids is a thing and the world still reels with shards and secrets and threats of homophobia, is it sensible to toss all that context in the bin and just focus on some pretty screwing?
Call Me By Your Name pretends to be a sweet love story with a gay twist, but it leaves you perplexed about issues of wholeness and pain, bias and lessons that get left abandoned in the premises of the tale. Is it about the promiscuity of Greeks from Antiquity? Is it about the loneliness of being Jewish in a city that is Catholic? Neither, it seems. This is a film about sex, plain and simple. But is sex ever plain and simple? This is not a foray into pornography, but it might leave you feeling grubby and unsatisfied.
- Call Me By Your Name is directed by Luca Guadagnino and features a cast headed by André Aciman, Elena Bucci, Vanda Capriolo, Amira Casar, Timothée Chalamet, Victoire du Bois, Esther Garrel, Armie Hammer, Antonio Rimoldi, Marco Sgrosso, Peter Spears and Michael Stuhlbarg. It is written by James Ivory based on the novel by André Aciman. Produced by Emilie Georges, Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, Marco Morabito, Howard Rosenman, Peter Spears and Rodrigo Teixeira, it features creative input by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (cinematography), Walter Fasano (editing), Stella Savino (casting), Samuel Deshors (production design) and Guilia Piersanti (costumes). Release date: February 23 2018.