27 June 2018

REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name

Film: Call Me By Your Name
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Release: October 2017

I FINALLY watched this film last month and it left me in tears. I wasn’t able to see it in Cinemas but that didn’t stop me from glancing at a couple of articles, press interviews, award ceremonies, talk shows, photo-shoots- I mean I just couldn't avoid it. It felt as though the entire world was shouting about Call Me By Your Name. I can’t blame them, I do think it deserved all the attention it received, Oscar buzz included.

I will always celebrate a film which focuses on a LGBTQ+ character or story. Cinema has inspired people for decades and its power lies not only in its ability to allow audiences to escape and be entertained, but in its ability to have an emotional impact on someone who may connect to the characters in some way, or on someone stuck within the walls of their close-minded self-established prison. LGBTQ+ stories haven't been shared in so, so long, as a society we must celebrate them and discuss them in the hope that they will be completely normalized in the near future.

Despite me making no effort what-so-ever to avoid any spoilers, the plot of the film was a complete mystery to me. All I knew was that it was a low-budget LGBTQ+ indie film starring fellow bilingual Timothée Chalamet and finally-getting-the-attention-he-deserves Armie Hammer. It’s fair to say that I was very unprepared for the heavy emotional impact of the film. In some ways it reminded me of the 60’s French nouvelle-vague: beautiful locations in the southern European sunshine, long shots, little to no-background music and a true focus on characters and the human connection. It was refreshing to watch a film that is just so raw in both its imagery and its story. It was incredibly personal.

As an audience member I did feel a little awkward at times because I was watching such intimate and personal moments of someone’s teenage life, someone who is struggling to come to terms with his own thoughts and desires none-the-less. I felt as though I was intruding on Elio’s personal space, his worry and fear of being caught and judged was leaking out of the screen. I knew he didn’t want anyone to see him during those moments, but I was watching, and I almost felt bad for doing so. The fact that it left me feeling this way means that both actors and film-makers succeeded in both capturing the innocence of a character and their soul. It was believable. I’m specifically referring to the scenes where Elio is alone in his bedroom, the acting so natural you didn't realize that there was no dialogue. Those are my favourite kind of scenes. They reflect the talent of the film-makers who manage to share an emotion without use of words: more often than not dialogue is over-used, it pollutes the images and it cheapens the film. CMBYN is the kind of film that doesn't need a huge amount of dialogue because the emotions emitted by the actors are so clearly presented on screen.

Not a whole lot happens in the film, it is very slow paced and it isn't action-driven, it's character driven: it demands your unwavering attention, it wants to pull you in so you can understand the heavy importance of the story.
The purpose of this film is to tell the story of two individuals who fall in love. The emotions build up little by little and eventually weigh down on you during the final 15-20 minutes before exploding in the final sequence. Most LGBTQ+ films depict the homophobia or transphobia these individuals are faced with, and although this is partly the case in CMBYN the ending destroyed any expectations I have grown to have. Towards the end of the film I felt just as worried as Elio, constantly wondering whether or not he would ever open up, worrying about how his family would react if/when he did. However when that final sequence came along, I was so startled to the point where I genuinely started crying. It was such a positive and reassuring moment you couldn't help but feel just as relieved as Elio. The tremendous importance of that conversation and the impact it will have on Elio's life cannot be understated. Once again, a film that brings about that kind of reaction is certainly deserving of recognition. Well done Timothée, well done.

There is concern about the relationship between the two main characters (I mean there is a big age difference, despite 17 being the age of consent in Italy at the time), that was my main worry when I heard about the film, and I was very aware of it when I was watching it. I did a little bit of research to hear what other critics were saying about this and found some interesting articles along the way- I found this quote in particular to be very good:

For fans of the book and the film, it may feel self-evident that Call Me by Your Name is not a story of predation: It’s a story of first love and lust told from the perspective of a particularly mature teenager on the cusp of adulthood; the relationship is consensual; even Elio’s parents seem to approve; and, in any case, this is a fictional depiction, not an ethical endorsement. But the age gap will give pause to more people than right-wing trolls—it did to my progressive companion at an early screening—and it does the film no favors to pretend it’s not a question worth exploring.

- Source, Slate.com

I don't think the relationship was predatory in any way but because it is a question which has been raised I felt it was very important to acknowledge it. I could have easily avoided speaking about this altogether but what would that say about me as a film critic? And what would that say about a film critic in the time of #MeToo? Any potential comments or issues such as this raised by an audience deserve to be acknowledged and discussed. If anyone disagrees I would happily discuss the film with them.

Final words on the film? The main themes were family, love and self-acceptance. Beautiful 'raw' approach to film-making (small budget after-all, but worked in their favour), great acting and a lot of heart-ache.

Holly x


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