Jun 13, 2021

"Call Me By Your Name": Or Better Yet, Don't Call Me At All

 I didn't want to see Call Me By Your Name (2017).  Movies about teenagers struggling with same-sex desire in a world where gay culture doesn't exist are so 1990s -- Edge of 17, Beautiful Thing, Ernesto.  Plus the whole "call me by your name" thing makes me sick to my stomach, evoking the old homophobic myth that gay people are all narcissists, falling in love with themselves.

But Bob ordered it for movie night, as a break from the endless rounds of superheroes.  

It's 1983.  A wealthy (as in two servants), multinational, multilingual family is spending the summer in their huge house in Tuscany, where Dad dredges up archaeological artifacts and writes books that for some reason reference Heidegger (what does the meaning of ontology have to do with underwater archaeology?).  Mom has some sort of job translating Medieval French romances from German into English.  16 year old Elio (Timothee Chalamant) spends his time his time writing and transcribing music, usually while swimming so the paper gets all wet, and playing Bach through the lens of Chopin or something.  

Elio does not own a shirt, and the camera positively drools over his body.  Granted, some teenage physiques are attractive, but the actor kept playing Elio as so aggressively childlike that I couldn't think of him as anything but a little kid.  

There is no gay culture in this world, but Mom and Dad are ultra-laid back about gay people.  When a gay couple comes over for dinner, Elio snidely refers to them as Sonny and Cher, and Dad berates him for homophobia: one of them knows more about economics than anyone else in the world.  Who cares if he's gay?  He's important!

When 24-year old Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives, Mom, Dad, and an unspecified friend fawn over him so exuberantly that I thought he was a famous movie star.  Turns out they're just absurdly over-enthusiastic about Dad's new research assistant, staying with them for six weeks to help catalogue some of his archaeological finds or edit the Heidegger out of his latest manuscript or dispute the Greek-Latin-Arabic etymology of the word apricot.  But Oliver doesn't do much work; he spends most of his time swimming, playing volleyball, going to village dances, and riding his bicycle endlessly through the countryside.

Elio instantly falls head-over-heels for the "arrogant" American.  It's unclear whether he has experienced same-sex attraction before, but he tries to counter by having sex with two girls (or with the same girl twice, I'm not sure).  

Oliver, busily courting a girl of his own (or it might be the same girl), pretends not to notice Elio's flirtation.  Then he says "We can't talk about this.  We just can't."  Finally he permits a kiss, but refuses to go farther: "We've been good so far.  We haven't done anything wrong.  But this has to stop here."

I was confused, and I'm still confused.  Why can't they date?  Is it the gay thing or the age thing?  Same-sex acts have been legal in Italy since 1890, and the age of consent is 14.  

Finally Oliver permits a sneaky clandestine relationship, which includes sex (while the camera shifts to a potted plant) and that "call me by your name" thing, which made me sick to my stomach to watch.

Oliver gets a little aggressive, forcing Elio to eat an apricot that he's just...um, never mind...and saying "Come here. Drop your pants," which gave me a bad feeling.  There's already a power differential, and now he's borderline abusive, after just one date?

Mom and Dad deduce that the two are dating, and are absurdly supportive.  Dad welcomes Oliver to the family.  Mom arranges for the two to go on a romantic vacation together.  But Oliver obviously wasn't planning on settling down with a 16-year old life partner; when his research assistant job ends, he says "it's been real" and high-tails it back to America.  

Six months later, he calls to tell Elio that he is getting married to a woman.  Dad tries to cheer Elio up with a long, rambling, convoluted heart-to-heart, but it doesn't work.  He sits by the fire and cries.  The end.

The movie is beautifully shot, with lots of scenes of the Italian countryside (no cities), but very, very long.  The two hours and 15 minutes drag and drag, as nothing happens, then nothing happens, then nothing happens. And I still don't understand why Oliver was so resistant: the gay thing, the age thing, or "I'm not into relationships.  With guys, anyway."   

Final thought: it's 1983  Why have I never heard of any of the songs they listen to?  

My grade: C+.


  1. I like it more than you did. I spent summer in Europe at that time so it does have some nostalgia for me. The scene with the father is strange. Does he want to change places with Elio? Is he gay too? The ending is sad but perfect- we do not need a sequel- except maybe with Elio finding love with another boy his age. They can share a peach ; )

    1. The author of the original novel has written a sequel, in which Elio and Oliver reunite some ten years later, after they both have been in other relationships, and get back together again.

  2. Americans have a habit of thinking the age of consent is 18 everywhere, because California. But it was much lower in the US in the early 80s. (And of course, never enforced on women with underage boys.) Though California had been 18 since 1920.

    (Funny thing, every straight or bi guy in my school had the exact same plan to celebrate his 16th.)

    But yeah, this came off as rapey.

    1. age of consent is 18 and has been for a long time. Under 18 is Statutory RAPE. And this movie was BORING and stupid and did not deserve the hype it got from the Hollywood set; it also seemed rather unrelevant to the times now. Again, boring and vapid.

    2. Thank you Paul! I thought it was just me. This film got great, even rave, reviews. My reaction was exactly yours - dull, vapid, boring.

  3. "as nothing happens, then nothing happens, then nothing happens" makes one wonder if you were expecting shootings, beatings, rapes and explosions. the film is a series of finely drawn yet subtle, sometines elusive, vignettes and i found the final scene with the father intensely moving: the honest, accepting conversation that every lgbtq person yearns for with their parents.

    1. Now that you mention it, a zombie invasion might be nice

  4. The age of consent is 18 for traveling U.S. citizens, regardless of the country, but for Italian citizens it's 14.


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