Heavily touted Oscar contender, Call Me By Your Name is a scenic, mellow romp through the always-sensual Italy. Many films before it have shown similar views of the country boasting fine wine, landscape, and camaraderie. What sets this Italy apart from its cinematic predecessors, is how Luca Guadagnino interweaves concerns about mixed-race marriages and religious stereotypes in a very subtle way, where it isn’t bombarding the viewer or overly preachy. A Star of David necklace here, obscure references to Judaism there – it’s about as subversive as it can get without being dismissive. The film is based on James Ivory (Howard’s End)’s adaptation of André Aciman’s novel.
The other difference in Guadagnino’s portrayal of 1980’s Italy is the central love story of a gay couple. An older man with a minor, no less. In many ways, the young lad seems to be leaps and bounds ahead in maturity compared to his more cautious, self-denying lover. The teenager’s character is believable thanks to a passionate portrayal by Timothée Chalamet (Homeland, Lady Bird). He also flips between multiple languages with the only believable accents among the multilingual cast. The now-21-year old New Yorker is poised for big things. Guadagnino himself feels that Chalamet “has a capacity for understanding human nature instinctively that’s astonishing.” (The Washington Times, September 2017). Though his co-star (Armie Hammer) gives him something to play off of through their onscreen interactions, the show is all Elio’s (Chalamet). The rest of the cast seems to just fill in the spaces between the two lovebirds. They never quite offer any particular color or flair, apart from a few quick scenes between Elio and Marzia (Esther Garrel).
Nonetheless, the plot’s high points all revolve around the couple, so perhaps we can overlook the slight annoyance of vapid dialogue and wooden performances from the rest of the cast. But then, Guadagnino may have benefited from cutting the fat, to simply present a tangible love story with minimal outside distractions. The buildup and conflict of the controversial pair exists in a world where non-heteronormative relationships were still too ‘alternative’ to be free and open. Chalamet’s Elio doesn’t throw caution to the wind, but instead denies the wind itself. His honesty about his blossoming sexuality is a force to be reckoned with and could teach the old farts a thing or two in 1980’s Italy. And in 2017’s still-sluggish acceptance of non-hetero orientations.
Note: Guadagnino is scheduled to remake Dario Argento’s horror cult Suspiria. Nobody is sure if this will have a successful outcome. Argento himself is iffy about the whole thing, as he was never consulted about the remake, and feels that it should not be remade.