Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

OSCARS 2018: Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Last year, “Moonlight” pulled off a surprise – in a really very literal sense  - win for Best Picture. It was a major win for progressiveness, for such a graceful film about LGBT romance to claim the year's top film prize. From early on, “Call Me By Your Name” was pegged as this year's “Moonlight,” in that it's also about a romance between two men. Directed by “I Am Love's” Luca Guadagnino, and adapted from a novel by Andre Aciman, the film is unlikely to grab Best Picture the way “Moonlight” did. However, it's an excellent movie that probably rounds out the best slate of Best Picture nominees I've seen since I started caring about the Oscars.

Every summer, Elio's family takes a trip to the Italian countryside. It's 1983 and he just turned 17. The son of an archaeologist, Elio often feels like an outcast. Jewish, intellectual, and naturally prickly, he finds the annual trips to mostly be a bore. (Even though there's a pretty girl in town interested in him.) Things change when Oliver, a graduate student, is invited to stay with the family over the summer. The two are intrigued by each other. Soon, Oliver and Elio enter into a passionate love affair. Both keep their meetings a secret. Elio soon begins to feel strong emotions for Oliver, suspecting this is more than just a casual summer fling.

“Call Me By Your Name” is an aching, passionate film about adolescent desire and secrets. Elio and Oliver's relationship begin with fleeting looks and light touches. When left alone, their passion overflows and the two lock into passionate kissing. The scenes of the two together, alone, are sensual without being exploitative, peaking with a sweaty and bare chested love scene. Elio's libido is in overdrive, as he's sleeping with a girl in town and also a fresh peach. However, what he shares with Oliver is special. Their romance is intuitive, based on things they both feel. Both feel like they have to keep their affection secret, making their moments together even more special. This is an intimate journey meant only for the two of them. This is best represented in the titular line. By calling each other by their own names, Elio and Oliver acknowledge their secret pact.

It's also a passionate that is meant to be short lived. Elio and Oliver have their secret time together, sharing their bodies and feelings when no one else is around. Eventually, both have to go back to the real world. In a meaningful moment, Elio watches Oliver get on a train and ride away. He then breaks down in tears on the phone, asking his mom to come pick him up. “Call Me by Your Name” then makes a spotlight for probably the best movie dad of the year. Elio's father – who has been aware of the affair the whole time – explains to him to feel his heartbreak, not to lock himself off from these emotions. “Call Me By Your Name” could have ended on that note but instead includes an epilogue, set around Hanukkah. This is when “Call Me By your Name” completely opens its wounded heart up to the audience, letting loose a powerful and intensely melancholic side. The dalliances of youth are short-lived but cause ripples that last a lifetime.

Pinning the film together are two impressive lead performances. Timothee Chalamet realizes Elio as the teenage boy he is. He's moody, prickly, somewhat off-putting, and way too horny. Yet there's also a grace and beauty in his adolescent fumbling. Elio is, in some ways, more intelligent and perceptive then the people around him. He also feels more, which Chalamet beautifully captures. Armie Hammer, whose matinee idol good looks have led to him wasting his talents in far too many mediocre would-be blockbusters, reminds us why we like him in the first place. As Oliver, he's sensitive, funny, charming, but sweet too. His romantic passion brings out a boyish side but he's more reserved with his feelings then Elio is.

“Call Me By Your Name” is not just a beautiful movie, emotionally, but also visually. Luca Guardagnino shoots the Italian cities and countryside in a loving manner. The streets of Italy are alive with people. The country areas, the fruit trees and flowing waterfalls, bring a natural beauty to the film that no production budget could buy. Adding to this beauty is an amazing soundtrack. Sufjan Stevens contributes several fantastic original songs. “Mystery of Love” is as gorgeous and full of longing as the film that accompanies it. “Visions of Gideon” rolls over the end credits, making sure their isn't a single dry eye left in the house by the time the film ends. Guardagnino also throws in some period accurate Italio disco and New Wave numbers, with “Love My Way” by the Psychedelic Furs getting an especially significant shout-out. I really like that song.

There's so much wrapped up in “Call Me by Your Name.” It's a multi-layered film about being queer in a time when this was less accepted then it is now. It has something to say about the Jewish experience, especially in places were that is less common. By setting the story in Italy, and making Roman history part of the film's backbone, Guardagnino raises interesting questions about his feelings towards his home country. These questions are wrapped in a story that beautifully captures the joy and heartbreak of being young and in love. After his finishes up that “Suspiria” remake, Guardagnino will supposedly start work on a sequel, revisiting the characters during the AIDS era. This will probably be a worthy film but part of me wishes to leave Elio and Oliver where they are, separated but never far from each others' thoughts. [9/10]

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