To the brink with fresh, youthful emotional energy Call My By Your Name (2017) indulges in the treasures of first love and leaves us gasping for more. The fresh honesty with which director Luca Guadagnino carves out the growing attraction between two people makes it a romance locked in a capsule of time for all times. He takes the subject of sensual desire from earlier works I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015) to different dimensions in both a wise and naïve coming-of-age story that inspires us to act on our impulses, take the chances of encounter and embrace both beauty and the pain that comes with it.
Call My By Your Name begins when Oliver, a handsome, confident scholar arrives to the house of archaeology professor Perlman in a northern Italian village for the summer as his assistant. Slightly condescendingly the professor’s 17-year-old son Elio gives him the status of an ‘usurper’ on arrival. However, as Oliver settles into their life and Elio as a good host shows him around the neighborhood, Oliver proves himself not only to take up a position in their household but also seize possession of Elio’s heart. What ensues is a summertime drawl knitting Oliver and Elio’s bond tighter and unprecedentedly setting off the spark to Elio’s own sexual awakening.
Whilst Elio might seem restless and a bit precocious, he is also musical talented and book-learned expressing a deeper level of introspection and emotional sincerity. And whilst he does hang out with the local teenagers, he finds more excuses to spend time with Oliver bathing and cycling in the idyllic countryside. The symptoms of falling-in-love are all there and exquisitely portrayed: the playful glances, excuses for touching one another; Elio scribbling on scraps of paper tormented for saying the wrong things. Elio also begins wearing his own star of David necklace once seeing it on Oliver’s neck, consoled to find a piece of common identity. Their story of love is slow and pensive, interchanging acts of playfulness, trepidations, impatience, craving and lust. As such their emotional connection matures over time and intensifies the built-up tension between them, of what lies on the cusp but remains unsaid. Framing this, Elio’s mother reads him a story of a knight unable to tell a princess he loves her, questioning “Do you speak or do you die?” Similarly, Elio and Oliver equally struggle whether they dare make the next step instead of keeping their desires locked up inside them forever.
Guadagnino admits in an interview at the New York Film Festival of his preference for a narrative that is “at the very centre of his characters. To let leave the flesh and bone and blood and sperm and every other biological fruits of his characters that is in a way connected to an audience because we are like the people on screen.” As a sign of any good film, Oliver and Elio evolve into such whole emotionally fraught characters that we as viewers are hungry for their on-screen presences: because we also like to see what is most true to ourselves. Fighting personal impulses, Elio and Oliver fall head over heels for one another. Given the time Guadagnino affords for their emotional connection to develop means that Oliver’s departure when it comes is as clear-cut as a knife edge, Elio left reeling with grief.
This honesty manifests on the spotlight Guadagnino gives to bodies, skin and its vulnerabilities. Elio’s adolescent body reacts whilst processing the emotional intensity of his relationship with Oliver: he gets a nose bleed, throws up unexpectedly; cradles to the ones he loves to cry. His physical culpability suggests that Elio and Oliver, by laying claims to each other’s hearts, surrender themselves entirely before one another. Complementing this is the timeless natural landscape and the film’s archaeological musings. Swimming in vaults and the discovery of ancient findings from the sea is contrasted with the transience of Elio and Oliver’s summer of love. Their connection is as youthful as it is ripe, like the purity of the apricot juice they drink and typifying the heartfelt moment when Oliver caresses a shamed Elio in his arms having ejaculated into a peach.
Questions of knowledge frame their fleeting romance; of the world, of themselves and what it means to know: “If you only knew how little I know about the things that matter,” Elio admits to Oliver. Elio’s parents are pivotal in making Call My By Your Name as a coming-of-age tale a narrative on education and the treasures yet also the prices of knowing. Rather than shunning or brushing their relationship under the table, Elio’s father in a heart-breaking speech tells him not only to embrace his emotions but do so with the utmost intensity. “What you two had, had everything and nothing to do with intelligence. When you least expect it, nature has cunning ways of finding out our weakest spots.” He beckons us to link the knowledge of the earth and of history with that of us, our bodies, desires, dreams and the perils of opening up and exposing yourself to another.
Call My By Your Name’s endearing romance looks at what it means to become a subject of desire. Guadagnino describes it as the “need to act out”, to “start seeing things outside of you and question yourself in front of the other in its otherness.” It is about accepting and bringing your feelings into fruition, to its fullest potential before it’s too late. “Feel something you obviously did,” Elio’s father tells his son, “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of them faster that we go bankrupt by the age of 30.” The ripening of Elio and Oliver’s relationship suggests that we should let things happen in the time they take. We should not only plummet straight into feelings of love and beauty, but also of sorrow and pain and be careful to quench neither. As a father’s advice, keep those emotions alive like we treasure ancient findings. But unlike tinkering artifacts, “our hearts and our bodies are only given to us once. And before you know it, your heart’s worn out.”
Watch here the film’s trailer:
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Call Me By Your Name (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb