Call Me by Your Name

I really liked this movie. It occurs to me (again) that it's more fun to write about stuff I don't like, and more fun to write about movies I feel a superiority over—and therefore feel compelled to write about a problem with, or an aspect of the movie that, in doing so, necessarily “ruins” the movie for someone who hasn't seen it. But you have to know for yourself, I guess, how much you should learn about a movie before seeing it. Personally, I try to not even see trailers, but seeing how they play them before movies, they're often unavoidable. I skipped going to the “Three Billboards” movie because I saw the trailer three times, and each time it nearly made me cry—I felt like I'd been through it. I know this is unfair to the movie, but then certain trailers are unfair to movies. Anyway, I avoided seeing a trailer or reading anything about Call Me by Your Name (2017) before seeing it, and didn't even know until it was over (and looked it up) that the director is Luca Guadagnino, whose 2015 movie A Bigger Splash I saw and liked quite a lot (except, if I'm remembering correctly, the ending). But that, and more so this one, was impressive filmmaking, which (I thought about while watching it) really interestingly uses and subverts film shorthand conventions (which are ingrained in us, so we don't think about them). Scenes are mostly short, without beginnings or endings, or any indication of what scene you'll see next. The dialogue continuously surprised me, too, and pretty much delighted me. I don't know how much of that was on the page of the script, or how much was written in the process, but it was impressive, as was the acting throughout.

What I had heard about this movie was that a lot of people really liked it, and it was a “gay love story”—so what I was expecting was a kind of watered down romance, being careful not to scare away the “straight” audience. It seems like, often, gay love stories that are meant for both straight and gay audiences have to spend so much time trying to please both, and respectfully go through emotional and societal ups and downs, it just leaves very little time for anything else. It's maybe why that subject might be better dealt with in a TV series, which you can really stretch out and take your time. And in this case, couple that with a coming of age story—it's too much. I'd like very much to never again see actors depicting someone having sex for the first time—yet two of my favorite movies in the last year dealt with exactly that. (This, and Lady Bird.) Oh well, I guess there are really only a handful of cinematic canvases we start with, and it's what you do with them that's the crucial thing.

What I want, when I go to movies, is surprises—and it's often humor that surprises you most—and I guess that's why romanic comedies exist—because the comedy part makes the romantic part palatable. Two people meet and there's an attraction, but first they hate each other, of course. And there's always that point where it (love) nearly gets away—the convention of it, it's unbearable to even think about. What is surprising about this movie is how civilized everyone is. If you had to say what movies are about (in the the most general sense) it might be: “people hurting each other.” Whether that's physically or emotionally or both, it sometimes seems like cinema is just endless blows to the head. Maybe that's why I thought Shinya Tsukamoto's Tokyo Fist (1995) was kind of the ultimate cinematic expression. Well, the surprising thing in this movie is when the hurting does happen, it felt a lot more like my actual true-life experiences than the dramatically inflated versions I see in most movies. Partly it's a relief, and partly a revelation.

I think the movie started with an inter-title that maybe said the place, and maybe the year—I can't remember—but I swear I saw the year 1968, but that couldn't have been, because it was set in the early 1980s. For awhile though, I was pretty involved with solving the mystery of time and place, as well as trying to figure out who these people are, what their relationships are to each other. A movie's strength is dropping you into a situation cold, and I love that. At first it made me think about Lucrecia Martel's La Ciénaga (2001), just because of the mystery in the rural setting, and the family—but that was very different. This place is an almost unbearably idyllic rural Italian setting that is so luscious that it makes human lust seem like an imposition. It almost hurts when our protagonist, the young Italian kid, says how bored he is. At some point there is rain, too, and you think, it's not fair—these people can't stand up to this place, to nature, especially when it's filmed like this, and on the big screen of a movie theater! But the characters slowly start to fight back, little by little revealing themselves through their actions, and little windows of dialogue—that often seem unrelated to each other or the scene—that work on your evolving perception of them.

Okay—there was a point—about two-thirds through—where the story took over—it conquered the weather and the place—and I was unhappy. Also, I had to pee, but I didn't want to leave, and I got to thinking again about how movies that are over two hours should have intermissions. One could have worked very well in this movie. It would have been tragic to miss this father-son talk, not very long, but the piece of writing the entire movie is turning on. The father is played by Michael Stuhlbarg, the only actor I recognized, though I barely recognized him, because he's been entirely different in the half dozen rolls I've seen him in. It would be fascinating to be this guy's friend in real life. This was a monologue, essentially, the kind that actors might literally kill each other to get. Really, I felt like all of these actors were really good, and even the smallest parts were a bit fascinating. I didn't want to leave these people!—and that's a nice feeling at the cinema.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see more period movies than ever, since you don't have to go back that far to be a period movie (even Lady Bird was one)—for one huge reason—yes, of course, smartphones. You can't make a realistic contemporary movie without the smartphone being, essentially, a character—and so how do we deal with that? So, of course, we will see some very brilliant and inventive ways to deal with it, but also a lot of period movies, and I'm all for that. I got to thinking about this, and it is frightening—the science fiction scenario where all humans are connected to a mainframe computer which becomes part of who they are? Yes, we're living in it. So it's nice to see a movie, like this one, where no one is a victim, the story is not hinged on a tragedy, no one strikes anyone in the heard—and instead of smartphones we have: bicycles, gym shorts, some really good looking fruit, an old piano, the Psychedelic Furs, and water (it's funny, the last movie I saw, The Shape of Water, and this one, could have swapped titles)—in brooks and rivers, swimming holes, coming down from the mountain, and coming down from the sky.

Randy Russell 1.24.18