Yes yes yes. As a queer person, I get tired of the fact that usually, in order for a queer film to break through to the awards season/perpetual writeups stage (which seems to honestly only happen with one or two films per year), it MUST be focused on tragedy and hardship. Queer people deserve all types of films, and it was extremely refreshing to see a gay love story that managed to be emotional and heartbreaking without having the typical antagonistic elements present. I loved Moonlight, and it was a story that demanded to be told and seeing it win best picture is a moment I will hold dear in my queer heart for all time. However, I really liked that the next Chosen One was something decidedly different and less high stakes story of first love and romance.DarkImbecile wrote:I actually thought the lack of the by-now cliched "coming out" obstacles faced by Elio was part of what made the movie work so well; rather than emphasizing the struggle against homophobic parents or peers, institutional indifference or hostility, guilt based in religion or cultural shaming, or obvious teenage identity angst, the film is able to focus on the core relationship and its universally relatable aspects. This both works in making the film as accessible as possible while also presenting an extratextually valuable cultural representation of a gay relationship that doesn't end in AIDS, suicide, hate crimes, etc. - just a broken heart. And the fact that the heartache is contextualized not as a loss of "the (only) One" or a life-defining absence, but a step on the path to adulthood, is part of the beauty of Call Me By Your Name. The reason I was in tears during Stuhlbarg's speech wasn't because of any sadness for Elio - the film seems to agree with everyone here that he'll be just fine - but because I wish I (as a heterosexual white male who grew up poor, more or less fatherless, monolingual, with no musical ability, Mercedes-less, Italian villa-less) had heard something approaching that meaningful from my parents about the importance of not growing calloused or closed off to the pain that often comes with the best parts of life. I don't think we need to feel pity or sympathy for characters going through some of the most basic human emotions to feel invested in or relate to those characters and emotions.
It seems that those voicing criticism mostly have issues with the accessibility of the characters and the narrative, which is going to be subjective regardless of what anyone else says, but I haven't heard any complaints about the stellar cinematography, acting, music, and all the other elements done so well here; if nothing else, this is not a hard movie to watch, and from its passionate supporters, it seems that if it hits you in the right spot, it hits pretty hard. I'd be curious if anyone has any technical or even structural/story complaints beyond the "poor little rich kid" or played out "nothing but bike rides in the country" themes.
However, I hesitate even to really say it was less high stakes because emotionally this film took a huge toll on me and continues to. The tenacious and almost time release way in which it wove itself into my consciousness is remarkable and rare and I sometimes wonder if I'll ever recover from it. One of the most unique things about my experience with the film is that nearly every close, fellow queer friend I have saw it within the space of a couple weeks, and I kept having different versions of the same conversation with them. Conversations in which we commiserated and wept and analyzed and felt so much closer to each other in a way that has been invaluable to us especially in this politically contentious era in which we often feel so alone. Now, I want to make it clear I'm not suggesting anyone here whose experience was less than stellar be influenced or convinced by this. Sometimes a film doesn't connect and if Elio's privilege or general demeanor or any other elements just kept you from connecting, that's just how it crumbles, cookie-wise. :P It's so hard to say what makes art work or not work for someone, and it's not something you have a lot of control over. Just know that this film viscerally impacted me and so many of the people I love in my life in a way not easily forgotten. I will try to describe some of the elements here that really packed a punch for me.
First off, I agree with what Mungo mentioned here about Elio's parents kind of recognized that he was an awkward kid who had yet to connect in a real way with his peers. Both his father and mother are seen encouraging interaction between Elio and Oliver at different points in the film, and I think with the precedent being set that Elio is a bit standoffish and unsure how to communicate his feelings (his tendency to be alone transcribing music yet furtively looking at Oliver wishing he could join in, sniping at Oliver about Bach and then berating himself for it privately), it makes sense that, combined with his age and the newness of this experience, it would hit him like a ton of bricks when he finally lets his walls down and opens himself up to his intense desire for Oliver.
One of the main aspects of this movie that made it so successful for me is that it's a film told in queer language. It's subtle, it's nuanced, you have to fill in the blanks about their connection because they can't make the big, obvious, out-in-the-open romantic overtures that straight people do (see: Elio saying Oliver didn't give him any signs and Oliver vehemently protesting that yes he did, when he massaged his shoulder). Now, some of you might argue that Elio's privilege contradicts this, but it doesn't. I had a very liberal parent who gave zero shits about my sexuality and dialogue was always open and non-judgmental. That doesn't insulate you from the outside world or from your own young, fledgling insecurities though. It's still very difficult to just take the leap and pursue someone of the same sex when you're messily navigating your budding sexuality, and that was something this film did expertly that I found my friends and I continually coming back to. I imagine some people will read this as a lack of connection/not enough to go on, but for me it was spot on and I related so fucking hard.
This was in no small part due to the excellence of Chalamet's performance. He is very believable as Elio, and his attention to detail and body language was superb. The way he touches his fingers to his lips in awe after Oliver holds his hand. The desperate, frustrated, whiney moan he chokes out at the beginning of the peach scene when he’s remembering his night with Oliver...I've made a variation of that masturbatory fantasizing sound and I think most people have. It's a quiet, intimate moment you don't feel like you should be watching, and even though that sound is maybe one second of film time, it haunts me. The way he puts his foot on top of Oliver’s when he isn’t sure how to begin. The way he navigates the spectrum of emotions he experiences when parting with Oliver for the final time, running his knuckles and the back of his hand under his chin, twitching and taking deep breaths on the bench before finally calling his mother. He’s nervous and awkward and unsure of himself but playing at being confident and composed sometimes, like he’s trying on different suits to see what fits. It’s so relatable it aches.
I saw the film a little over a month ago now, and I made the dubious decision to accompany a couple friends to see it a second time (was not a responsible decision in terms of my emotional well-being honestly haha). The second time around, since I knew what was coming, I had more time to focus on details. One portion of the film that jumped out at me more the second time around is the scene of Elio’s mother reading to them. After she reads the “is it better to speak or die?” part and Elio laments his lack of courage to ask such a thing, we get our first hint of how well his parents know the internal struggles he thinks are hidden. Mr. Perlman reminds him he can always talk to them, and then we make a beautiful transition into Elio telling Oliver about that passage in the book and finally making his courageous decision to speak. It’s lovely how those scenes flow into each other.
To go back to Elio’s “we wasted so many days” comment, another part of the film’s structure that is done expertly and gradually is the establishment of the languorous mood of summer juxtaposed with the rapidly diminishing time Elio and Oliver have together. In the beginning of the film, there is time to lounge about and take naps, scenes of Elio tossing and turning in his bed or sitting transcribing music, everyone just leisurely passing the time without hurrying toward anything at all. And then once Elio and Oliver kiss, time starts to pass differently. A bit of anxiety edges into the languid atmosphere as Elio impatiently looks at his watch all day waiting for midnight, and after they spend the night together, scenes of relaxing dinners and reading in the sun become more infrequent, replaced with Elio racing into town on his bike to see Oliver and the two of them gleefully embarking on the trip to Bergamo that will be their last hurrah before a bittersweet farewell.
Even some of the camerawork choices start to be a little more dynamic. In the beginning we have slow, panning shots of the Perlman family’s home and landscape, and in the beginning of the Bergamo section we have a much rockier tracking shot of the route the bus is taking on a dirt road (at least I assumed/thought that looked like it was supposed to be in front of the driving bus, it could also be them on bikes I imagine). Who doesn't remember that evocative feeling of summer in your formative years where it seems you have all the time in the world until suddenly you don't?
There are so many visual and sonic choices I adored. The dreamy, romantic piano line chosen for the memorial scene puts you in Elio’s headspace as he confesses to Oliver, repeating “Because I wanted you to know” slowly as though parsing his own meaning as he’s giving it voice. The blurry lens of the camera when Elio and Oliver kiss, Elio drunk and deliriously in love on the streets of Bergamo, makes you feel intoxicated right along with him. The backdrop of the orchards full of ripe fruit and the homoerotic nature of the sculptures Oliver and Mr. Perlman are studying is perfect but not heavy-handed. Nothing in this film beats you over the head. Everything is gradual and deliberate, sometimes painfully so but it’s in that ache that you find the magic I think. Everything in the scenery is lush and sensuous. And I can’t even THINK about the Sufjan songs or I will be an emotional wreck.
To speak to the criticisms of Luca not making the main love scene more graphic, that never occurred to me while watching the film. The way the first love scene between the two men is shot and choreographed, the way Elio clings to him and tilts his head back to expose his neck, eyes closed like he’s thoroughly entranced by the fact that this is real, the intimacy of them lying naked in bed afterward holding each other’s faces, it puts the focus on the absolutely deep-rooted yearning rather than simple mechanics of sex. I thought that was almost more erotic and meaningful than it would have been otherwise. And I say this as a person who LOVES queer smut. Like a lot. As in I have written hundreds of pages of it and read thousands and will read thousands more. I think Luca’s choices were wise and effective, and they have had a much more lasting impression on me than more graphic sex scenes have. And this brings us back to the quiet subtlety of the film because damn...that morning after? Where they both withdraw a bit and exchange awkward smiles, neither sure if the other party wants to repeat the encounter or if their feelings are returned in quite the same way and how to proceed from there? Yet another intimate scene that feels intrusive to watch but oh so realistic.
Sorry this is so long, but I have so many thoughts. I'll try to cap it off with a bit about Michael Stuhlbarg's speech. As a person attracted to people all over the gender spectrum, I really enjoyed that the film doesn’t paint the sexuality of the characters with hard, stringent lines. Elio might not be nearly as enamored with Marzia as he is with Oliver, and likewise Chiara may be more of an afterthought to Oliver than Elio is, but that doesn’t negate their encounters with the women. Sexuality is allowed to be fluid and free without any overwrought discussions of definitions in this film. Elio’s father’s speech is mostly talked about in context of the "don't shun your emotions and grow cold" sentiment, but I really enjoy that it's focused on Elio embracing his feelings and himself for who he is without an emphasis on adhering a strict label to what that means. The weight is instead given to Elio defining that in his own time. Once again, as a very fluid person I greatly appreciate this.
I also have come across some people interpreting Mr. Perlman's speech as though he is completely dissatisfied with his life and only thinks of the raw passion of youth as valid love. I don't think so. I think when he says he never had what Elio and Oliver had, that something always got in the way, that he means having a homosexual experience in an honest, unashamed way. He has a wonderful life with a partner who he is very comfortable and open with. He is shown consuming life with gusto. I think he just has some regrets as we all do and wants to minimize Elio's potential for regret as most parents do. Also, it absolutely breaks my already broken heart when he lies to Elio about his mother's knowledge of his affair with Oliver because he knows his son is too vulnerable to hear it just yet. A+++ parenting. Likewise, his mother combing her fingers through his hair and letting him mourn without pressing him to talk before he's ready.
Okay, ending before this becomes a novella. I just loved this film a lot and needed to post about it. :)