Manon Girault on Luca Guadignino’s ‘Call Me by Your Name’ (2017)
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME PREMIERED early January at Salt Lake City’s 2017 Sundance Film Festival but has made its most recent pit-stops in Zurich and London. The film recaptures the bittersweet tale of a lickety-split summertime romance. Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American graduate, has travelled to Italy to help professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) in his research on Greek statues of the 5th century. Despite the time consumed by his research, Oliver’s attention eventually gets snatched by the presence of his tutor’s 17-year-old son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), whose feelings turn out to be as reciprocal.
Luca Guadgnino’s fifth feature is, in all likelihood, his most personal project to have been shared with the public. Guadgnino reveals the wonders that lie behind an isolated 17th century palazzo of the Northern Italian countryside, how the site nonchalantly influences its residents’ behaviours as witnessed with Elio in his coming-of-age.
The film is based upon Andre Aciman’s acclaimed novel of the same name. Like Elio, and like Guadgnio, Aciman grew up in a polyglot environment, juggling between European and Middle Eastern languages and regularly exploring his Latin roots. Guadagnino’s internationality as well as his background in the fashion industry explains his eye for aesthetics, for the beauty he creates by finding balance between (opposing) binaries. In I Am Love (2010) and The Bigger Splash (2015), we indulge in visual poise and elegance but are also challenged, by needing to confront all complications tied to sexual adventures and explorations. In Call Me by Your Name, Guadagnino focuses on these aspects, more subtly, by playing with the use of space.
We alternate between physical constrain and psychological freedom. Elio may be articulate and full of knowledge and curiosity, but he must still learn how to articulate what is most difficult: his discovery of new forms of emotions and desires. This is manifested by his stroll through space, his spacial exploration. He is trapped in his own labyrinth. Elio’s free time causes him to need to face his own self/fears. He feels less overwhelmed within small spaces and behind closed doors. But Oliver will eventually help him overcome his insecurities and allow Elio to blossom from apricot to peach. Indeed, Oliver is able to navigate his way even through spaces he is not necessarily familiar with. He remains carefree throughout.
But despite the palace’s overwhelming size, it is also here that provides its people with fruit, resources to encourage them in their temptations. The late afternoon sky, the walls of the couple’s secret hide-outs in town, the tip of their shared cigarette, their skin tones, unite Oliver and Elio. To a certain extent, the apricot tone appeases the tensions that may threaten their relationship. Oliver and Mr. Pearlman’s intrigue in the etymology of the word apricot, in the history of the Greek artifices, in reconnecting with the past, reminds us that despite certain ruptures, there is nothing to fear in the very end. These objects do not lose their affective and desirable qualities and, at times, pleasure can be recovered.
Call Me by Your Name is an unforgettable cinematic piece, which closes on Mr. Pearlman’s heart-stirring monologue he gives to his beloved son in which he encourages, reassures and cherishes his such beautifully unique relationship with Oliver. The father’s outlook is one that all spectators are encouraged to acquire. Sufjan Stevens, the artist behind the film’s soundtrack, brings out the film’s delicate qualities, our right to desire intimacy and to break down unnecessary spaces, peel each one of the fragile layers that make up our human body.
Screened as part of the 2017 BFI London Film Festival and is in UK cinemas 27 October, 2017