Friday, 22 December 2017

Call Me by Your Name

Luca Guadagnino, Italy-France-Brazil-USA, 2017

Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s novel is sun-drenched, wealthy and luxuriant and is full of a summer romance wish-fulfillment. It’s also primarily measured and sumptuous which mitigates how much idealism defines this tale of talented seventeen year-old Elio seducing and romancing the man that comes to stay to assist his father’s research. The age difference between them isn’t truly addressed but the key to this romance is consent.

Elio (Timothée Chalamet) may be precocious but he is not bratty or spoilt. Not for this bourgeois family the underlying rot and obnoxiousness of something like Lucrecia Martel’s ‘La Ciénaga’. These are decent, thoughtful people. When Oliver (Armie Hammer) appears on the scene, a smart American beefcake who disarms everyone around him, Elio tries to find fault but he is protesting too much. Elio goes through the motions of having a girlfriend but Oliver’s allure pulls him out. If perhaps the opulent summer and Oliver’s charm seem idealised, this is surely because it is all filtered though Elio’s viewpoint (the film is too knowing and well-realised for it to be bad writing). It takes a little time to show us that, no, this talented youth and this brazen man are not obnoxious stereotypes. Chalamet’s performance is wonderfully physical and knowing, catching the somewhat inelegant gangliness of youth even as he is negotiating his restrained feelings and how to articulate them. Hammer is charming and effortlessly colours in what ostensibly could have been a very thinly characterised object of desire.

Yes, the film takes it time to draw things out, bolstered by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography of Northern Italy’s Crema for a lush canvass, and eventually these men come out whilst circling a war monument. One advantage that this kind of gay narrative has is that longing and repression often calls for restraint, for inventiveness when finding the right dialogue and images and language. Euphemism reaps rewards in understatement. It is, though, the opposite of the clumsy aggression that pushes the declaration of passion in Francis Lee’s ‘God’s Own Country’ (which is sublime in a different way). James Ivory’s screenplay is swamped by atmosphere but the dialogue is often restrained and expressive in its pacing and silences. Occasionally it’s a little on-the-nose – Elios’ father saying how antique statues seems to be daring you to desire them and a few music cues (in that pop-songs-spell-out-the-emotions way... except The Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Love My Way’ which grants no criticism) – but it’s the kind of film that allows for a little indulgence. And then there’s the final talk.

The final monologue where Michael Stuhlbarg brings out the big acting guns and dazzles with his warmth and delivery is the domestic drama’s version of Darth Vader felling the rebels in the final action piece of ‘Rogue One’. If Chalamet and Hammer have been quietly stunning, it is here that Stuhlbarg just settles in and stakes his claim. Perhaps this talk is a little too long but is an unforgettable articulation of generosity – and the film is probably guilty of both these things as a whole. Luckily, Chalamet is more than up to the task of being left wordless in the aftermath for the end credits. 

It’s not unlike the sunnier but melancholic tones found in texts such as Umberto Saba’s novel ‘Enersto’ or Patrice Leconte’s ‘The Hairdresser’s Husband’. Or a romantic daydream inspired by a postcard.

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