A few thoughts on Call Me by Your Name

by Madalina Paxaman, photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The ad for the movie kept popping up on my Facebook account. Of course, I’ve heard about it. For the past months Call Me By Your Name is all I’ve heard about: the conversations between friends, the posts on various social media, the posters in the bus stations, the reviews of the mainstream and not so mainstream journalists and TV show hosts. I was not convinced.

Acknowledging the unfairness – André Aciman published this novel more than ten years ago and only now it caught my attention because of a movie I was in no hurry to see – I decided to read the book. Acquiring it broke my patterns. I usually don’t buy audiobooks. I am a digital immigrant and I still find great joy in holding a volume, I feel excited every time I open its covers, and I love the smell and sound of flipped pages. In this case, what convinced me to choose the audio version was hearing a short fragment narrated, to my surprise, by Armie Hammer. This was so powerful, passionate and unexpected that I had to listen to it twice just to make sure I understood correctly: had the novelist, also a distinguished scholar, really written that?

André Aciman: “I was writing faster than I have ever written in my life. It was as if I was in love. The writing took me places I would normally have never dared to go”

Set in Italy in the ‘80s, long before the digital awakening, the emergence of social media, and dating apps, before OMG, YOLO, LOL, LMAO, and BRB, Call Me By Your Name tells the story of people who relate to each other through conversations, music, literature and…bike rides and swims in the sea. Essentially a love story between two young men (Elio and Oliver), the novel is also about nurturing, about tolerance and acceptance in all their forms.

André Aciman is a courageous writer who very elegantly uses uneasy words to bring to life amazing daring scenes. He allows you to escape, to hide in the carefully detailed settings, in the leaps back and forth in time and in oscillations between reverie and reality. I found the novel almost puzzle-like with pieces offered here and there, guiding you through the story and, sometimes, leaving you questioning.

And then there is the interaction between the characters. I often heard that this is a coming of age story about gay love. I disagree. The attraction, the anticipation, the intense desire, the doubt, the shame, the sorrow, all these are feelings we experience when we are in love regardless of our sexual preferences or age.

While listening and re-listening passages from the book, I was almost convinced that the film adaptation could not be able to convey the richness of the novel.

“Oliver…I remember everything”

I owe it to André Aciman that I went to see the film. “What I do is chisel a statue down to its finest, most elusive details. What a film director does is make the statue move”, wrote Aciman for Vanity Fair. While the mostly clichéd reviews put me off, it was this particular quote that determined me to face a very icy, stormy winter day in order to get to the cinema. I needed to see the statue move. And I am glad I did.

Yes, the film bares some differences from the novel. The director, Luca Guadagnino, wanted the movie to be perceived as a tender love story. “We wanted to reflect the essence of the book, but that didn’t mean doing it literally the same way. We had to take some routes that were different” said Guadagnino.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, Director Luca Guadagnino, Photo by Luca Campri, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The cut out from the novel does not alter the core of the story. If anything, the manner in which James Ivory adapted the screenplay offers the opportunity to “see” more of some characters, as it is the case with Elio’s parents, played by Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg and the two unconventional professors interpreted by André Aciman and Peter Spears. And even with these changes, it is still all in there: the passion between Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the relationship between Elio and his parents, the house, the Heavenly Garden, and, of course, the lazy feeling of a small town in Italy with its piazzetta and war monument.

“I couldn’t write silences”, remarked Aciman here. In the movie, even if the silences are not always complete (there is a bird singing, a door slammed by the wind or a car passing by) they gave me the chance to pay a closer attention to the landscape presented like a succession of Monet paintings.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, Left to right: Amira Casar as Annella, Michael Stulhbarg as Mr. Perlman, Armie Hammer as Oliver and Timothée Chalamet as Elio, Photo by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Call Me By Your Name benefits from a great cast that, at times, delivers the story wordlessly: Chalamet playing a piece by Bach not only with his fingers but with his entire body, almost like making love to the piano, Hammer expressing so many emotions just by using his eyes and half of a smile – so powerful that you are left wondering “what could he have possibly thought about when he played that scene??”, Stuhlbarg sitting at the table in the garden looking, at the same time, amused, confused and scared, Casar caressing the necklace with the Star of David.

The movie is a success. With numerous films premiering every week, most of them using SFX gimmicks to tell the story of superheroes saving one world or the other, Call Me By Your Name managed to keep people interested months after its release and gain a very devoted audience that, as shown by the numerous social media posts, has seen the movie not once but multiple times.

Unexpectedly, I ended up being one of these people. After my visit to the cinema, I wanted to relive the experience in the comfort of my home so I bought the DVD. I could, and rightfully so, advertise the “extras” it offers. But truth be told, the reason why I got it is because I too want to remember how it felt to be Elio or Oliver.


Call me by your name plays in Aarhus at Øst for Paradis cinema. The movie is now available also on digital Blu-Ray and DVD.

 

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