Wonderfully cinematic; emotionally empty
April 4, 2018
Adapted for the screen by James Ivory, Egypt-born Andre Acimen’s ‘Call me by your name’ has already been nominated for countless awards as best picture, best actor or best supporting actor if not best screenplay or best director.
The setting is summer, 1983, somewhere in Northern Italy. The camera of director Luca Guadagnino captures wonderfully the luxuriant landscape of place rich lush in greenery, water flowing with abandon in streams and pools; the air is light and bright with sunlight.
Guadagnino’s camera eye is on Arcadia: poetic in images as he evokes a poetic fantasy, a pastoral paradise, and at any minute, we expect the Greek god Pan to gambol and frolic with abandon.
The cinematic ambiance is thus set to arouse gratification of the senses esthetically and more especially sexually…of a highly passionate kind.
The Perlman family welcomes a summer intern from America, Oliver (Arnie Hammer), to help Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) with his research in Greco-Roman culture.
The Perlmans are Italian Jews who wear Judaism discreetly, no outward sign distinguishing them from their neighbors. There is Arnella (Amira Casar) wife and mother, an accomplished linguist from whose lips fall Italian, French, English and German. And Elio (Timothee Chalamet) a precocious boy musically gift, speaks Italian, French and English effortlessly, and to whom girls are attracted.
And it is not without a sense of irony that Arnella quotes and translate Goethe who in his letters and poetry had his own love affair with Italy, as a traveler from abroad.
The stage is set for the Sturm und Drang of a short love affair.
And into this household Oliver enters , for Elio, like a summer storm, aroused as he sexually from quiescent desires he never knew.
Oliver wears his Judaism openly, as the gold Star of David he wears around his neck, as easily as he wears his privileged self-assurance as an American. Carefree, he mingles effortlessly; flirts with no physical exertion with women and is larger than life mixing with the village men who drink and play cards,
He is a graduate student preparing for medical school and in a sense, internship with the Perlmans is his last taste of youthful freedom.
Elio instantly drawn to Oliver slowly discovers that Oliver casts his desires on Elio with an intensity Elio has for Oliver. And into this garden of Eden that Guadagnino that creates for a summer affair between the 24-year old American and the 17-year-old Italian.
A bittersweet love that declares itself in the cool mountain springs, the verdant hills of Northern Italy and in the bed.
The pursuit and enjoyment of physical pleasure is fostered by a tolerant, cosmopolitan ambiance that dwells in the Perlman family. It is further accentuated by the father’s passion for Greco-Roman art, as well as the discovery in a lake of a Roman copy modeled on the muscular nude body of Hermes of the greatest 4-centurry BCE sculptor Praxiteles in all its grace and its raw masculinity.
And this theme is an echo of the love physical and romantic Elio shares with Oliver.
Summer’s over; Oliver leaves never to return. Elio confesses to his father his affair with Oliver. And the professor admits that he and Elio’s mother suspected all along the passion Elio had for Oliver, and more to the point he and Arnella tacitly approved as Elio sexually awakens.
Professor Perlman confession may win Stuhlbarg a nomination for best supporting actor; he acknowledges to his son that he too knew a similar passion he himself stifled as a youth. (Does this explain his own youthful suffering in the study of Greek art that his son has lived in his love for another man?)
Oliver telephones during Hannukah, the Jewish festival of lights commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by Persians.
A small festival of renewal and Elio takes it as a fanning the embers of Oliver’s love for him. It’s not for Oliver will marry soon and never return.
The camera catches Elio crying silently before a blazing winter fireplace, realizing the Oliver was sowing his wild oats and has in his mid-twenties has conformed to the social and sexual norms of heterosexuality, even though he calls Elio by his own name and Elio responds with Oliver.
Elio feels betrayed and the lights of Hannukah cast a long shadow of a sadness and sorrow and a finality. As the camera fades, we know Elio with bear existentially a deep scar that will never heal as long as he lives.
Overall, esthetically ‘Call me by your name’ is wonderfully cinematic. Sensuous and sensual in the way its capture nature’s seductiveness and the passions that it can arouse in man or woman. And in this manner, it is profoundly romantic in nature. And may very well earn the accolade of ‘new classic’ and among the very best films.
And yet, Hammer and Chalamet as Oliver and Elio are the least attractive and sexually appealing protagonists. The spark and fire between them is absent. Would other actors portrayed these two characters better, we cannot say. The die was cast when they were chosen, but they remain spiritually and emotionally empty