Call Me By Your Name

©2017, Sony Pictures Classics.

Left to right: Armie Hammer as Oliver and Timothée Chalamet as Elio
Photo by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Amorem conatum esse amicitiae faciendae ex pulchritudinis specie.

Love is a desire of contracting friendship arising from the beauty of the object.
-Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., vi. 34

In the final scene, a Hellenic archaeologist (Michael Stuhlbarg channeling the spirit of Robin Williams’ most somber performances) comforts his son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), with a speech that every LGBTQ youth, perhaps every teenager grappling with their first love, wants and needs so desperately to hear.  The bittersweet grin on Stuhlbarg’s face, as he expresses his life’s greatest regret, channels the many tragicomic performances of Williams, a comic who once said, “The saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy.”  But this is not a Bury Your Gays movie.

Each year, Mr. Perlman and his wife Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, take in an archaeology grad student at her family’s estate in Northern Italy.

Asks the professor’s visiting apprentice, Oliver (Armie Hammer), “What does one do around here?”

Elio replies, “Wait for the summer to end?”

A James Ivory script adapted from André Aciman’s Lambda award-winning novel, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME covers a summer in 1983 in which Elio and Oliver, the two principals, forge a slow-burn romance.

Chosen in particular for his comprehension of Italian locales, director Luca Guadagnino shot the film in Crema, Italy, where he resides.  A late-period Gen-X’er like me, Guadagnino’s use of production design and music replicates the period aesthetic with an authenticity that tends to elude Millennial re-creations of the scene.

Punctuated by the percussive staccato of John Adams’ ebullient Hallelujah Junction, Part 1, isolated in the Lombardy region of Italy in a villa tucked away from the sexual politics of America, the tension of the film arises not purely from the proscribed sexuality, but the intellectual foreplay.  When he’s not listening to Giorgio Moroder, Elio reads Heraclitus’ Cosmic Fragments.

Like Hulce’s Mozart in Forman’s AMADEUS, impertinently improvising alternate arrangements of Salieri’s welcome march, Elio coquettishly dispenses cross-pollenations of Bach’s Aria di Postiglione¹, “I just played it the way Liszt would have played it if he altered Bach’s version.”

Later, Oliver, Elio, and his father salvage a Hellenic bronze once owned by Hadrian.  Drawing his fingers across the nose and mouth of Dr. Perlman’s discovery, we take in Elio’s own resemblance to Michelangelo’s David—a pardonable misdemeanor as casting anachronisms go.

From a working-class family, Oliver appears to have simpler amusements—volleyball, cycling, swimming.  However, this may be a hypermasculine façade to conceal his true passions; he can digress into the disputed etymology of the word “apricot”.  Whether freshly squeezed or on the tree, the omnipresent stone fruit’s color pops, breaking through the sleepy comfort of the green countryside.

Let’s talk about those apricots.  The apricot tree in particular is one which prefers the temperate climate of North America yet can, with adequate care, thrive in the Mediterranean climate of Northern Italy, where same sex relationships have been legal since 1887.

Like those apricots, Oliver and Elio cultivate and nurture each other.  The Perlmans source their trees from a gay couple who represent one possible future for Elio and Oliver, depending greatly upon the social climate. Elio and Oliver attempt relationships with women, Marzia (Esther Garrel) and Chiara (Victoire du Bois) respectively, but these flirtations never develop into commitments, unlike the immutable and profound attraction between the two young men.

While Elio’s apprehensions stem mostly from personal insecurities, Oliver’s are a product of his American working-class upbringing.  On a stop in Bergamo just before flying back to the States, he rushes to join a straight couple dancing to his favorite song blasting from their car radio—”Love My Way” by the Psychedelic Furs.  It provides him a sort of hyper-heterosexual cover for his passions—always concerned that being seen alone with Elio, they would stand out like two luscious apricots.

Today, Elio would be my brother’s age, and yet a fair bit younger than the late James Ivory, who since 1963 had produced films with his business and domestic partner, Ismail Merchant, lushly adapting to screen the Austenian trope of summer home inter-class romance.  Merchant did not live to see his partner’s screenplay realized.  But, if you’ll forgive the aphorism, James Ivory’s love letter to Ismail Merchant, beginning with 1963’s THE HOUSEHOLDER, is now forty-five chapters long and counting.

As Mr. Perlman consoles Elio, he paraphrases Montaigne:

Si on me presse de dire pourquoi je l’aimais, je sens que cela ne se peut exprimer qu’en répondant: parce que c’était lui; parce que c’était moi.

If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than it was because he was he, and I was I.

  1.  Capriccio on the Departure of His Beloved Brother, BVW 992 in B-flat: V. Aria di Postiglione.