Oct 30, 2017

REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name

From my Sunday Times review:—
'The film takes place “somewhere in northern Italy,” and one of its more  immediate effects is to make you want to track down Guadagnino at a film festival and interrogate him for more exact whereabouts so you can start booking flights. In a beautifully dilapidated stone villa, an American professor of antiquities (Michael Stuhlbarg) lives with his French wife (Amira Casar), and precious 17-year-old son Elio (Timothée Chalamet),, a musical prodigy who spends his time transcribes piano etudes from his walkman, whose peace is disturbed in the summer of 1983 by a visit from Oliver (Armie Hammer), an intern of his father’s who has come to intern at the house. A bluff, chiseled showboat in an open neck shirt and pastel colored shorts, Oliver’s first act, upon arriving, is to collapse onto his bed like a felled tree. “Later,” he says, as if he’s off somewhere. Elio is both irritated and fascinated by this brisk-mannered interloper.  “What does one do around here?” asks Oliver, upon awakening.  “Wait for summer” replies Elio, but Oliver is not really the waiting type. You’d be hard pressed to say what type he is, exactly. We’re used to a strict division between our aesthetes and our outdoor types — you’re either translating Homer or you’re playing rugby, but never the twain shall meet — but Hammer smelts them into a single bronzed form:  a Hail-fellow Epicurian,  equally at home on the volleyball field as in the library,  playing cards or  dancing to the  Psychedelic Furs at a disco — not quite as magnificent as sight as Ralph Fiennes Fiennes gyrating in unbuttoned shirt to the Rolling Stones in Guadagnino’s  last film A Bigger Splash (2016), but then few things are. Everybody looks short when stood next to the Matterhorn.   
Before that sultry island thriller, Guadagnino made the exquisite I Am Love (2009),  in which Tilda Swinton fell in love with a dish of ratatouille and a chef, in that order.  Guadagnino is, in other words, cinema’s reigning sensualist, the best since Bertolucci, with particular attention paid to food and sex, and the overlap between the one and the other. Adapted from André Aciman by James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name at first glance seems like the sort of thing Ivory might have taken a crack at himself in the days of his partnership with Ishmael Merchant: ex pat academics, plates of food, French girls on bicycles, an atmosphere of precious intellectual development and simmering erotic fixation of the kind of thing that gets called “languorous” by critics and moves like melted brie on a hot day. There’s some business with a peach that should do for peaches what Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris did for unsalted butter. Here’s the remarkable thing, though: There’s not a trace of torpor to the film. Like the great poets, Guadagnino understands that nothing sharpens our appetite for pleasure more than it’s cessation. He cuts some scenes a lot shorter than you’d expect, often ending them on some off-kilter note —  a power cut, a nose bleed, a sudden plop into a pool — and the effect is playful, frisky, with a touch of Elio’s impatient hauteur. Other scenes he lets play long, like the extraordinary one-take scene in a dusty plaza where Elio and Oliver circle one another like buzzards, while the Sufjians Steven’s piano arabesques come and go, like passing clouds, or  Elio’s faltering courage. Guadagnino hasn’t adapted Aciman’s novel so much as interrogated its moods, going at it with attack, con brio. 
Did I mention that the love affair at its centre is gay? I shouldn’t have to for the greatest love stories at the movies generally are, these days. The tradition of heterosexual romance which peaked with Brief Encounter and received a last hurrah with The English Patient is looking pretty pooped of late, the baton instead passed to films like Brokeback Mountain, Carol and Moonlight, which rend their audiences’s hearts as effectively as the melodramas of old. Hetero romance is too easy — there’s no impediment. But Stuhlbarg has you hanging on every word of his infinitely gentle paternal monologue here about the importance of heartbreak, and how we must resist the attendant temptation to retreat.  “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the time we’re thirty,” he says. “But to feel nothing it not to feel anything — what a waste.” The hush with which these words were received by the audience I saw the film with suggested either copious tears or furious notes. Whatdidhejustsay?'

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