Who would guess that at 4:00 on a Monday afternoon, I would have the privilege of watching one of the most moving films I have ever seen. With a small group of 20 or so people, I sat quietly watching a love story unfold, while a host of emotions swirled around my heart. Today was Best Picture nominated film number five, Call Me By Your Name.
Call Me By Your Name stars Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar and Esther Garrel. This romantic drama, directed by Luca Guadagnino, is rated R for adult themes and sexuality, and has a run time of 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Call Me By Your Name is nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song “Mystery of Love” and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Chalamet).
In 1980s Italy, seventeen year old Elio Perlman (Chalamet) is spending the summer with his parents (Stuhlbarg and Casar) in their gorgeous 17th century villa in the northern part of the country. Elio is a gifted musician, an avid book reader and well versed in a variety of subjects. Elio has been raised in a culturally rich home, well loved by his father, who is a professor specializing in Greco-Roman art, and his mother, a learned woman who is a translator. Their idyllic estate is surrounded by fruit orchards.
Twenty four year old Oliver (Hammer) arrives from the US to work with Mr. Perlman over the summer as an intern. Handsome, charismatic and good hearted, Oliver attracts a great deal of attention from the local community. Elio finds him arrogant, and turns his attention toward the young woman he has been flirting with all summer, Marzia (Garrel).
However, as they get to know each other better, feelings shift, and a romance begins between Oliver and Elio. Over the long months of that beautiful summer Elio learns the joys and heartbreaks of falling in love. In the process, he ultimately discovers who he is.
This was an incredibly well done film. The backdrop of Italy was especially poignant for me, as it is such a stunning country. Timothée Chalamet, whom I just watched in a minor role in Lady Bird, delivers an outstanding performance. If he wins the Oscar he will be the youngest, at age 22, to ever take home the golden statue for Best Actor.
This coming of age story focuses on several relationships…that of Elio and Marzia, Elio and his parents, and Elio and Oliver. And you know what? A love story is a love story. I appreciated that no one in this film was labeled in any specific way. Elio was Elio. He loved. He experienced joy. He experienced pain.
Armie Hammer, who portrayed Oliver wonderfully, said in an interview: “Anybody, regardless of your orientation or identification or age or race or whatever, you can watch this film and you can remember the first time you felt infatuated with somebody. Or the first time you felt comfortable enough to sort of present the open and honest, raw, unguarded version of yourself to somebody else and to have it received and appreciated and then reciprocated.”
How beautiful it is to experience such love. And how much it hurts when the relationship ends, or the love isn’t reciprocated, or the feelings simply fade away. We can all identify with the challenges of intimate relationships.
Which made the speech that comes near the end of the movie all the more powerful. Elio’s father sits with his heartbroken son, and offers these words with a quiet strength and complete compassion. It’s lengthy. But it’s too important, too crucial, to edit it.
Look, you had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. 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!
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.
It has been amazing this week to watch these films on the big screen, as they were meant to be experienced. And to watch with an audience creates an energetic intimacy, as we share in the story. After that speech, the theater erupted with sobs and sniffles. Two older gentlemen sat near me, crying into their hands. Why? Because those are the words we all want to hear. That love can be both beautiful and painful. But it’s real. The pain makes us want to tear away huge chunks of who we are, so we won’t feel any more, so it won’t hurt. But don’t, Elio’s wise father says. Don’t. Stay in it. Feel. Feel the joy and the sorrow.
I choked up during that speech. A single tear coursed down my cheek as my heart thudded in my chest. I want to spend some time thinking and free writing my thoughts around those words. I’ve still got a lump of raw emotion caught in my throat. Writing and reflection will help me to process it.
I am undone by Call Me By Your Name. And that’s a good thing, I believe.