Call Me By Your Name is another film on the Oscar watch list that I was not keen to watch. In fact, in this case, I would go so far as to say I was morally opposed to watching it. After all, the premise of the film; a seventeen-year-old boy has a summer-time love affair with a twenty-four-year old man in 1980s Northern Italy; seems a little at odds with all of the activist movements going on in Hollywood at the moment, and indeed around the world. Now, passionate fans of the film, of which there are many, will immediately shout me down with: “It is a consensual relationship!”, “Elio is very mature for a seventeen-year-old!”, “His parents are supportive of the relationship!”, “But the film is so transcendent and sensual, it is a coming of age tale, it is not perverse or predatory at all”. Yet these same fans who proclaim Elio is mature beyond his years, intelligent and sophisticated, gush over his adorable innocence when it comes to matters of the heart. Aren’t we now entering dangerous territory when an older man enters the fray?
But all that aside, I promised myself I would give it a chance. After all, I was perfectly capable of enjoying Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for its literary merits even if its controversial subject matter didn’t sit well with me. And for heaven’s sake, my all-time favourite female protagonist Buffy the Vampire Slayer is dating a 242-year-old vampire at the age of sixteen. That opens all sorts of doors that I have never cared to explore, but they’re there. I gave Daniel Day Lewis a fair shot, I can give this movie a fair shot.
First of all, it’s beautiful. “Somewhere in Northern Italy” as the opening credits set the scene, should get an acting credit because it’s probably the most enchanting part of the movie. Our young protagonist Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet) lives here in his family’s 17th century villa with his mom and dad, who is an eminent professor specialising in Greco-Roman culture. (I got this from IMDB. I’m assuming the person who wrote it got it from the book upon which the movie is based, authored by Andre Aciman, as this is all a bit vague in the movie, he just seems to look at statues a lot). Elio passes his time reading, translating music, playing various instruments, riding his bicycle, swimming in rivers, and generally moseying around without a shirt on. Then Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) arrives on the scene. Apparently, he is a 24-year-old American college graduate student working on his doctorate and is the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Again, I’m assuming you get this from the novel or are left to guess who he is because his appearance is never really explained in such explicit terms. I only really knew who he was because of the reviews I had read, otherwise I would probably still be confused. As an aside, I hope it was an unpaid internship as he spends most of his time playing volleyball, riding his bicycle, wooing the local women and swimming, and very little time helping the professor.
At first Elio is unphased by his arrival, but soon becomes hyper aware of his presence. At first, he tries to channel all of his sexual energy into his relationship with a local girl, Marzia, but he can only deny his connection with Oliver for so long. Now credit to the defenders of the moral fibre of the film, Oliver does not pray on Elio and does in fact do all he can to hold him off and even during their relationship he is very careful to protect him and his feelings. They do share an undeniable, special connection – although the chemistry between the two actors doesn’t exactly sizzle onscreen – but I wasn’t really wooed by the whole “call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine” bit. Which I guess is maybe the whole point of the movie?
To be honest, I wasn’t really wooed by any of it. Except Italy. Italy was very, very pretty. And Chalamet shows definite potential as a big-time actor of the future, but I need to see him play something other than a pouty teenager before I commit fully. Other than that, I was bored senseless from beginning to end. It was like watching the travel channel, focused on one peach farm in Northern Italy for two hours. As petulant teenagers go, Elio made Lady Bird look like the dream child. Your parents give you unlimited freedom, they own a mansion in Italy that you holiday in every summer, winter and Easter; cheer up kid! Speaking of which, his relationship with his parents was beyond unrealistic; No teenager is that close to their parents, regardless of circumstances, it’s ridiculous to expect us to buy that.
The only shining moment for me is when his dad has “the talk” with him after Oliver leaves and has these words of wisdom to share: “To make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything, what a waste. Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once, and before you know it, your heart’s worn out. And as for your body, there comes a point when nobody looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there’s sorrow, pain; don’t kill it. Keep it with the joy you felt.” Two minutes and fifty-two seconds of joy in two hours and twelve minutes of pain.
I tried, I honestly did. I guess this is just a perfect example of different strokes for different folks. I honestly don’t see how anyone garnered any kind of enjoyment from watching this film. And if it wins best picture tonight I might just break my TV.