Call Me By Your Name
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
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
Do you think that movie would play out as an Oscar
candidate in today's cultural environment?
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,
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
Possibly this one.