Call Me By Your Name


IMDB summary

by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

You probably know that this film was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It is a coming-of-age drama about the romantic relationship between an adult doctoral candidate and a 17 year old.

"What?" you say, "It glorifies a pederast?"

No, because both the adult and the child in this case are male, which makes it OK.  Society's values have really changed.

Picture this: you are a professor and have a gifted, vulnerable 17-year-old daughter. A grad student lives in your house for the summer as part of an intership within his Ph.D program. While he is there, he seduces your daughter, then runs back home and gets engaged to his fiancee, leaving your daughter in tears as the story ends.

Do you think that movie would play out as an Oscar candidate in today's cultural environment?

I don't.

And yet, if you simply change the word "daughter" to "son," you create an instant metamorphosis from a tone-deaf glorification of pederasty to a tender, Oscar-worthy romance.

I am not criticizing the film or its authors. It actually is a tender romance. What I am criticizing is society's hypocrisy, and the same hypocrisy reflected in the Motion Picture Academy.

So did I like the movie? Not so much, but that's unrelated to the subject matter. It's more a matter of my personal taste. Call Me By Your Name has the sensibility of a European art film, circa 1965. The story, such as it is, progresses slowly, in three different modern languages, with occasional discussions of Latin and Ancient Greek. Some individual scenes which seem to be necessary to the narrative seem to be cut short before making their point, while other scenes which do nothing to advance the story or characters can be utterly annoying in their languid pacing. Picture this scene, for one example: it's a beautiful summery day on a charming, deserted country lane in rural Italy. Near the camera, two young males climb on their bikes and start to ride away. They ride and ride and ride and ride until they disappear in the distance. The scene is captured by a single stationary camera which never uses the zoom. This was one of many scenes when my mind wandered and I nearly fell asleep.

So, it's really not my kind of movie. There were only two moments I found genuinely impressive. The first consisted of some exquisitely beautiful still-lifes of Italian landscapes in winter. The other was a speech delivered by the professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) to his young son after the boy's older lover had departed.

    "What you two had, had everything and nothing to do with intelligence. He was good, and you were both lucky to have found each other, because... you too are good.

    We rip out so much of ourselves, to be cured of things faster than we should, that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything - what a waste!

    Let me say one more thing. It'll clear the air. I may have come close, but I never had what you two have. Something always held me back or stood in the way. How you live your life is your business, just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there's sorrow, pain. Don't kill it and with it the joy you've felt."

Both of the scenes I liked happened in the last ten minutes of the film. That's a long time to wait for something to admire in a film.

Actually, I thought it could have been a good 90-minute film that was poorly edited to 130 minutes, but you should probably also note that my date pretty much hated everything about it. I have learned to tolerate, occasionally even appreciate, the peculiarities of 1960s-style European art films. She has not. She found the grad student (Armie Hammer) to be plastic, superficial, vanilla and totally lacking in personality. She was utterly annoyed by the film's constant and pretentious digressions from the main story and especially by its occasional arty color filters. (One brief scene is in red-and-white for reasons mystifying to me.) She laughed out loud at how some of the characters reacted to other characters.  Example: a guy who looks like a "hood" character out of Grease smoked a cigarette impassively in front of his red sports car when Armie Hammer commandeered his female friend for a dance through some ruins. Not a "what gives?" or even a change of facial expressions.

Fortunately, the story was told in chronological order, because my date told me she was walking out at the first sign of a POV flashback.

By the way, what could be more representative of pretentious Euro-films than "dancing through ruins"? That should actually be the title of a European art film.

Possibly this one.