By Joseph Castel
Despite the current cultural climate and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that have ignited our collective consciousness, a Euro styled coming of age story about a boy just shy of manhood and an older man not yet 30, has taken this award season by storm.
“Call Me By Your Name” was nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year, received eight Critics Choice Awards, led the Independent Spirit Awards with most nominations, and garnered Golden Globe and SAG award nominations including those in the Best Actor and Supporting Actor categories.
The story’s set in the beautiful countryside of northern Italy in 1983. Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Italy since 1890 with the age of consent being 14, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. So, the romance between the precocious 17 year-old Elio and his late 20s lover is completely legal. Their affair being socially acceptable is what the film grapples with in a very humanistic way.
Oliver (Armie Hammer) is a stunning grad student who spends the summer with his professor’s family as a research assistant. The blonde Adonis from America has to share an adjoining room with Elio, a talented pianist, composer and voracious reader.
Timothee Chalamet, 23, is a shoe in for the best actor nods as the lovelorn Elio. Chalamet brilliantly careens his character choices between awkward adolescent and detached pretentious protégé.
The chemistry between the characters is precarious as well as provocative. It’s not clear at first whether Oliver is a smooth operator or genuinely falling for Elio, hence, the controversy. If Oliver’s amorous charms are used to play with Elio’s adolescent emotions just to bed him, then it does come off as self-serving.
The answer to whether the overconfident Oliver is sincere or not lies within the subtle, discreet and numerous scenes Italian director Luca Guadagnino has carefully orchestrated as he slowly peels back the layers of each characters’ perplexing and volatile moods.
A lot of the drama takes place around the dinner table with Elio’s parents. What’s not said speaks volumes. The powerful undercurrent of sexual tension drives Elio to dislike Oliver at first as he resists his subtle passes. Instead of admitting their attraction to one another, they both jump into the arms of the female persuasion.
Moviegoers may be a little disappointed with the European art house pacing. This love story doesn’t have much of a plot as scenes languish on long pensive silences in
a sumptuous setting of the Italian countryside that spills across the screen like a renaissance painting.
The narrative doesn’t really pick up until a half an hour in the film when they finally acknowledge their hormones, I mean, their “feelings,” and go for it.
Clearly, the young men are drawn to each other intellectually. They appreciate the same kind of classical music and literature. They even envy one another, hence the film’s title.
They each want what the other one has: Elio yearns for the worldly wisdom and exuberant confidence that Oliver possesses and Oliver longs for innocence lost.
At one point, Oliver tries to stop the relationship, because of fear, guilt and confusion, but the heart wants what the heart wants and there’s no law or social taboo that will ever stop that from happening. Their relationship is more than just a summer liaison, because their experience awakens something within both of them.
What also makes this story so unique is that the secret lovers never needed to worry about Elio’s parents flipping out about the same sex, age difference thing. That temptation of forbidden love is not perceived as taboo in this household of liberal intellectuals.
Elio’s father, an archeology professor, at first pretends not to notice, as his mother’s gaydar zeroes in on the reluctant stargazed couple. She even suggests that the boys take a trip together before Oliver returns to America, knowing full well of their clandestine love affair.
After Oliver leaves, Elio’s father even consoles his heartbroken son with a revealing talk on how lucky it was for Elio to experience his first true love with another, smarter, caring man, something his father admits to wanting in his youth, but never had the courage to experience.
Talk about open mindedness. Most dads would have fired the employee after a proper ass beating. But this is not that kind of movie.
Elio may have thought he knew all about philosophy and music but he knew nothing when it came to the bittersweet configurations of love.
It’s Chalamet’s final scene, in front of the fireplace that may earn him the Oscar. And he does it without saying a word. His pain stricken eyes says it all as he goes through a transformation of acute awareness – he finally finds that wisdom he was seeking as he transitions from boyhood to manhood in one long take while the credits roll.