Columns, Film Reviews

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

By • Dec 21st, 2017 •

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Enthralling and unforgettable. Yet, reenforces society’s belief that the penis is ugly. Could physically gifted Armie Hammer has an ugly penis?

I am reading The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies by James Neill. One-quarter way through this remarkable work, I can only do it grave injustice by reducing its main theme to a few sentences. But here goes. Homosexuality – historically between an older man and a youth – occurred in all great legends and cultures without shame or condemnation. Plato made it the very basis of his philosophy. Same-sex relationships were highly regarded for its emotional purity. Women – as child bearers – are a necessity. Only a love that takes place without a requirement can be a pure love.*

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name presents an alluring, picturesque scenario of highly educated Italians enjoying the summer of 1983 at their fruit tree-abundant palazzo with servants and friends and the peace that comes with wealth.

Every summer Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), a specialist in Greco-Roman sculpture, arranges for a graduate student to stay with the family for six weeks to help with his research. His son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), is 17-years-old and rather awkward. This year, its handsome, confident and easily brilliant, 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer). He effortlessly contradicts the professor on the etymology of a word on his first day at the palazzo. Oliver’s beauty, casual masculinity and personal ease with himself is intoxicating to Elio.

That Elio must give up his bedroom to Oliver and take the adjoining room sharing a bathroom allows one to question the lack of space in the palazzo. But it does bring Elio and Oliver in very close proximity to each other.

Oliver’s unself-conscious manner is seductive to Elio as he finds him in the village playing cards with the townsmen and being given his favorite drink. And this is just day 2 of his stay. Elio’s female schoolmates access Oliver approvingly when he goes out dancing with them. Elio is suddenly jealous of their interest in Oliver.

Oliver is the first to casually touch Elio during a volleyball game. With the days of swimming and lounging around together in swim trunks brings Elio closer to revealing himself to Oliver. He initiates a kiss.

Oliver knows to do anything would be highly inappropriate, especially since Elio has not explored his sexuality yet.

When Professor Perlman informs Elio that Oliver is going to spend the weekend away doing some research, surprisingly it is Professor Perlman’s wife, Annella (Amira Casar), who suggests Elio go with him. Two rooms are not reserved.

Clearly Annella has seen Elio’s glances at Oliver across the breakfast table. By suggesting Oliver and Elio go off together, isn’t she encouraging a sexual relationship? Though, when Elio asks his father if his mother knows about his sexual relationship with Oliver, he says she has no inkling.

It is briefly mentioned that Annella inherited the estate and is obviously sophisticated and educated, but her son’s sexual awakening alludes her. But it doesn’t seem to go unnoticed by their housekeeper Mafalda (Vanda Capriolo).

But passion overrides etiquette and Oliver introduces Elio to same sex lovemaking. Elio, finally releasing his desire for Oliver, falls passionately in love with him.

Hammer as Oliver uses his 6’5” body as a cloak to embrace the deep yearnings of Elio. His performance is tremendously affecting. In these love scenes, Hammer has truly given himself to the role. There is no false move or one fake moment. In fact, Hammer is striking in his understanding of how kindness and love comes across so pointedly in his performance.

Towards the end of the film, there is a long monologue by Professor Perlman to Elio that leads back to my opening remarks in this review. Perlman acknowledges the beauty of their friendship and how significant something like that can be…and how rare.

Crying on cue is tough and actors and actresses have to rely on tricks of the trade to make the tears flow. My strong appreciation of Chalamet’s work formed at the very end of the film as the camera stayed on his face. Not only did he cry but his nose turned red and those tiny facial muscles that tighten under its own will, appeared. There is no faking that.

Unfortunately, the daring Guadagnino had to submit to the contracts for Hammer and Chalamet that prohibited any full frontal nudity from being featured in the film.

Apparently, Call Me by Your Name’s screenwriter and originally attached director, James Ivory, told Variety, “Certainly in my screenplay there was all sorts of nudity.” Ivory said that Luca, who took over as director, told him “…both actors had it in their contract that there would be no frontal nudity, and there isn’t, which I think is kind of a pity. “Again, it’s just this American attitude. Nobody seems to care that much, or be shocked, about a totally naked woman. It’s the men. This is something that must be so deeply cultural that one should ask: ‘Why?’”**

Yet, in Guadagnino’s A BIGGER SPLASH (2015) – the title  killed this film – Ralph Fiennes cavorts, merrily and often, engaging in full frontal nudity.

Its okay to have Hammer pretend to perform fellatio twice on Chalamet and mount him, but he refused to do any naturalistic physical movement that may have exposed his penis.

As Frank T.J. Mackie said: “Respect the cock!”

This would have been a terrific moment to begin to re-shape society’s opinion on the penis. Since actresses routinely do full frontal nudity (Sally Hawkins in 2017’s THE SHAPE OF WATER) why is the penis still off limits? Doesn’t anyone celebrate the penis? I guess if Hollywood cinematographers and lighting technicians cannot make the penis beautiful, no one can. And that is indeed, as James Ivory said, a pity.

*Because of famines, plagues and constant wars, populations were decimated. Its been offered that the Roman Catholic Church (and Europe) needed more child-bearing marriages. By elevating marriage as a sacrament (early in the 12th century) and making it a holy union, partnerships that did not result in children and families were deemed not blessed by God. Homosexuality began its swift demonization.

** Early on, when the film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, Guadagnino was credited as co-screenwriter. In an arbitration hearing initiated by James Ivory, The Writers Guild of America acknowledged that he be credited as the sole screenwriter of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name (Chiamami Con Il Tuo Nome) for the work he did on the adaptation of André Aciman’s novel.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

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