I have a movie/book hangover. Is that still a thing?
With so few titles really impressing me lately, both on screen and on page, I am happy to be miserable and heart-broken by Call Me By Your Name. (Not because of the story, but because it is over.)
The book, the movie, and the soundtrack have recently moved at the top of my favorite books, movies, soundtracks. Besides telling a riveting story, they are similar in artistic excellence and the pure delight they deliver.
Call Me By Your Name, set in 1983 Italy (Italian Riviera in the book, Northern Italy in the movie), tells the story of 17-year-old Elio, who falls for Oliver, a doctoral student from America, working as summer intern for Elio’s father. The romance between them develops amid idyllic scenery and intellectual upper-middle-class gatherings.
The awards season frenzy inspired me to watch the movie. Luca Guadagnino’s Bigger Splash and I Am Love are reason enough to have trusted this movie to be good, too. I did not, though, expect it will stay with me for days after that amazing final scene.
Not so surprisingly, it sent me straight to the bookstore to read a book, which, sadly, I would not have picked up beforehand. Superb writing style, honest and sensual, without being cynical.
I believe the reason the movie was so well-received, and the book has subsequently gotten so much love, is because the story and the way it is told, resonates in many ways with many people. It is of course a story about a homosexual relationship, but it is also a story about love, about coming of age, about identity, about living a full life, maybe even a movie about an idyllic Italian summer. And as any and all of these, both the movie and the book are deeply moving in both an universal and a special kind of way.
The book creates an immediate closeness through Elio’s eyes and thoughts – we are made aware of his emotions, doubts, misgivings and hopes. He often narrates with ‘it never occurred to me’ or ‘it only later occurred to me’ – creating an alternating narrative, both commentary and self-reflection embedded in a kind of involuntary, as Proust would call it, memory of an experience that comes from and at the same time becomes the essence of one’s desires.
This retrospection is missing from the movie but the languorous wistfulness is there – not for any specific time, or any specific experience but for coming of age, for life as it unfolds, and for the experience of an unforgettable defining love. “The meaning of the river flowing is not that all things are changing, so that we cannot encounter them twice, but that some things stay the same only by changing.”
Call Me By Your Name looks at the tribulations of the human heart as a map to the true self. In his constant musings, book Elio actively looks for identity through Oliver and ponders if this attraction is even lust, desire, or rather a wish to become the other, so that one can finally be oneself. And this is true for any relationship. The build up of this theme is what broke my heart at the end, because it is part of life and a very unromantic one. We all find ourselves to lose ourselves.
The movie is brilliant as an adaptation. While in the book Elio’s introspection is always guiding, pushing even, the reader to explain Oliver’s effect, the movie drives this understanding with subtle details, as simple as Elio starting to wear his Star of David. The movie allows space for ambiguity and at the same time achieves visceral understanding, made ever so emotional and sensual by how balanced everything is.
No less important is the impact of the frivolous, fun tone in some scenes. It cancels out sentimentally and adds to the characters, who are neither speaking a lot, nor doing much. The movie succeeds at showing them just being and still propelling the story forward. All is understood without being said – we get the connection, the context, the dynamic of the Perlmans, without necessarily listening in on all the conversations and witnessing the mechanics of their family.
Apart from the story, the cinematic experience of Call Me By Your Name, the brilliant direction, the spectacular performances, are what just makes me go “Yeah! That is cinema!”
Let’s mention yet another artistic medium that made Call Me By Your Name such a holistic delight – the soundrtack by Sufjan Stevens. My absolute favorite is Futile Devices , which is hard to find anywhere but on YouTube. And then, of course, there is the Oscar-nominated Mystery of Love and the final scene’s Visions of Gideon. Superb.
As with great art, this movie has inspired lots of creative explorations. My favorite is Call Me By Monet, an Instagram account, combining scenes from the movie with Monet paintings. Besides being visually stunning, these pairings come with additional charge for those who have read the book.
“This,” I said by way of a preface meant to keep his interest alive, “is the spot where Monet came to paint.”
Thank you, @cmbynmonet, for letting me use your pics for this post! 🙂
I will definitely rewatch the movie and even find time to reread the book (if you follow me, you know I hardly ever re-read). Mostly, though, I will be counting the days until the sequel (Much love to Luca Guadagnino for deciding to do it).
Images: Call Me By Monet