Off the back of Moonlight’s (or was it La La Land? Ha ha…..) success at last years Oscars, it’s almost fair to say that the days of cataloguing films into ‘heterosexual’ and ‘LGBTQ’ are going if not gone – and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name deserves to stand as one of the front-runners for this change. Following on from his previous successes of I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, beautifully cast, beautifully shot and recently receiving a 10 minute long standing ovation at its premiere at the Sundance film festival, Call Me reminds us that first love is a universal experience and that categorising films in this way sadly can propel avoidance of films that beg to be seen.
Memories of Arnie Hammer (The Social Network, J. Edgar)’s occasionally wooden performances are zapped from his recognisers as he soars in his role as oh-so-American academic Oliver, and Timothee Chalamet (Homeland)’s career propellor in the role of introverted yet assertive prodigy Elio has to be a contender for a few best actor statuettes in March next year. Call Me follows the making and breaking of an 80s Italian summer romance between Elio, a 17 year old boy fraught with endearing ignorance, and his father’s student Oliver, who despite appearing at least 6 years older, is wrapped up in the same amount of heady confusion and exhilaration as his younger counterpart. Alongside the feelings of nostalgic sentimentality you experience, it’ll also really make you want to sack off work and book a plane to Lake Garda.
The relationship between Elio and his father proves to be a real turning point for films that explore the process of coming out. Unlike the vast majority of films exploring this theme, where adversity and prejudice is continuously encountered, Timothy’s father is a refreshing vessel of acceptance and compassion. He gives Elio the best advice a person could give to another person, let alone a father to a son, that in experiencing pain we are able to understand its importance by its illumination of the happiness we felt beforehand. The two should exist together, or we would not be able to tell the difference. Great Stuff. It seems to be a conscious decision by Guadagnino to couple the family’s many artistic influences (Elio plays multiple instruments, his father has made a living in academia studying Greek sculpture) with an ethos of empathy and fairness. Rightly so, as true, forgiving appreciation for the beauty in the world doesn’t go hand in hand with animosity.
What the film also does is make you painfully aware of all the lost opportunities over the last century between homosexual couples who tried to be together at a time when they couldn’t. Despite the acceptance of Elio’s father and the general lack of negative atmosphere surrounding the two, it’s still wrongfully embedded in Oliver that they’re doing something ‘shameful’, in his words. What now feels congruous with our generation once felt impossible, and it is very, very important that we remember this.
Anyway, if this review does impel you to watch the film, please make sure you see it all the way through the credits, as the last ten seconds completely impacts your post-film feelings. And if it doesn’t, there’s a particularly weird scene involving a peach that will go down as one of the most eye-brow-raising scenes in recent years. Go for that at least.
Video courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classics