Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name ★★½

Late into the evening, past midnight to be sure, Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) finally, tantalizingly consummate their evolving, tacitly navigated relationship. The game has been played for the better part of the first half of the book, and the first half of the film, of Call Me By Your Name, written with horny detail by Andre Aciman and directed with a cold distance by Luca Guadagnino. Aciman plunges you into the heart and loins of its narrator, a grown Elio recounting an idealized memory of formative desire, and while Guadagnino keeps himself at a distance, leaving Elio to be cypher-adjacent, Chalamet doing heavy work to convey the complications, contradictions, and ambivalence he feels about his feelings for Oliver. But this night, Elio is supposed to be there with Oliver, closer than ever before, the touch on the shoulder earlier, merely an intimation of desire, transformed into the body collapsing into Oliver’s arms, justifying a cliche of two becoming one. When this happens in the film, though, Guadagnino literally turns away from this.

Guadagnino has mostly kept his distance from the two of them throughout the film, rarely allowing the camera inside their games or lessons in cruising. His camera frequently frames the bodies in long shots. So, too, is the case when Elio fumbles over Oliver’s body, and they awkwardly climb into bed with one another, their drives ramping up, their motions becoming more aggressive; the camera sits maybe 8 feet from the bed, curious, but almost too unsure of whether it’s okay to look. It makes its feelings clearer when the camera literally pans away from them, left to right, to look at a tree outside, whatever moans and grunts fading away before we have a chance to hear them.

We fade back into their bed, and Oliver proposes what makes for the title of the book: “Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.” And they do. And just as they begin to make love again, the camera fades out.

It’s meaningful, bittersweet to watch their legs enmeshed with one another, but why is the film so disinclined to watch them have sex? Why does it frame the “emotion” of the relationship as hierarchically better and more worthy than the sex? It would be less frustrating if two things weren’t true of the film: 1) for however short and comical the scene is, we see Elio prematurely cum when he’s with his sort of girlfriend Marzia, though they’re framed at the bottom right corner of the image and 2) we see him pretty explicitly about to eat her out in a later scene, camera stationed to Marzi's right so that Elio is on the right side of the frame, about a foot away. 

It feels like Call Me By Your Name deliberately turns away from gay sex in a way it doesn’t for straight sex, it feels like that Guadagnino’s claims of wanting to make the film feel “universal” were more than just eyeball worthy press conference bullshit, but something that’s embedded in the film’s form. Though we see Oliver blow Elio the morning after, it is, again, from a distance, a medium long shot, just close enough to hear the saliva but far enough so that the bottom of the frame cuts off at Elio's hips so that it becomes a visual gag. (Say, 6 feet away.) 

When the “call me by your name” scene happens in the book, crucial to the scene is a sense of disembodiment, a porny Lacanian experiment. Oliver suggests this game *while* they’re fucking, the weirdness of unpacking one’s own relationship to one’s desires and sexuality and identity just as important as its romantic connotations.

The book is about libidinous, lascivious sexual discovery, the first 100 pages a tease. Aciman spends a dozen or so pages before Elio can utter to himself that he was wet with precum. And though an interesting amount of attention is paid to the “peach” scene, particularly the sound design, or when Elio and Oliver are in the grass, the sunlight passing through Elio’s hungry lips, there’s a distanced approach for most of it. 

If you think I'm suggesting it should have been pornographic, 1) I'm not and 2) even if I were, why is that a bad thing? The sexual maturation of Elio is as important as the emotional one. That's the point of the title, and that's the point of the book. There are ways to engage and depict queer longing and desire without being so stiflingly tasteful, so timid. 

Their first night together is a climax. But in the film, it’s a cold, ashamed, embarrassed shower.

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