Call Me by Your Name Programme Notes


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Adapted from André Aciman’s acclaimed 2007 novel about the sexual awakening of a young man of 17 who falls for his academic father’s 20-something research assistant, Call Me By Your Name marks the latest film from Luca Guadagnino, the Italian director behind I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015). Like those films it’s another movie about wealthy characters who find their cloistered existence in a secluded enclave of Italy disrupted by the arrival of an outsider staking a claim on the protagonist’s heart. Rife as it is with forbidden passion and pyschosexual intrigue, the same-sex love story fits perfectly into Guadagnino’s oeuvre, to the extent that the three films are already collectively referred to as his ‘Desire’ trilogy.[1] Yet that’s also why Guadagnino resisted making it at first. Following A Bigger Splash, the director has joked that the last thing he wanted to do was another movie about people lounging next to swimming pools in beautiful Italy over a long hot summer.[2] At the time — 2015 — he was gearing up to remake Dario Argento’s iconic horror freak-out Suspiria (1977) with regular collaborator Tilda Swinton — a film he has since shot — so he was happy enough simply being one of Call Me By Your Name’s producers. But when veteran filmmaker James Ivory pulled out of directing it himself (Ivory retains a screenwriting credit), Gaudagnino stepped in, the lure of shooting in his home region of Lombardy in Northern Italy and the chance to work actors Armie Hammer and relative newcomer Timothée Chalamet proving too great.[3]  

The setting and the sterling work of the cast are certainly among the most immediately striking aspects of Call Me By Your Name. Guadagnino evokes the period — the summer of 1983 — in a flurry of details: a Talking Heads t-shirt; a rural disco playing The Psychedelic Furs. But in other ways the setting feels timeless. The impending AIDS crisis - which had only just become front-page news[4] — is never referenced; the countryside villa is awash with ancient artefacts; nature is prominently evoked (and fruit sensuously defiled); conversations revolve around the philosophical musings of Heidegger and Heraclitus, and both the diagetic and non-diagetic soundtrack cues range from Bach to minimalist pioneer John Adams to the Elliot Smith-esque Sufjan Stevens, who composed two new songs for the film as well as supplying a rearranged version of his 2010 track Futile Devices.  

All of which helps create a kind idealistic fantasia, one in which the characters inner desires are not explicitly inhibited by the societal conventions of any specific time period. Unlike Aciman’s novel — which is framed as a flash-back, the characters meeting in middle-age and reflecting on their youthful summer together — the film is designed to put us in the moment in which it unfolds, which helps the film subtly subvert the expected coming-of-age narrative beats for gay characters. As the older object of desire, Oliver (Hammer) may express the occasional need for caution as the attraction between him and the younger Elio (Chalamet) intensifies, but the only thing standing in the way of Elio’s happiness is his own confusion and fear about whether or not he has the courage to become the type of person in life who listens to his heart. It’s about finding someone and discovering yourself in the eyes of that person — not defining yourself in opposition to the world around you.   

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The desire to craft a somewhat utopian world broadly supportive of its characters’ choices was actually inspired by Guadagnino’s love of British pop band Prefab Sprout, whose 1992 song All the World Loves Lovers he’d grown up with.[5] The message (particularly the line “All the world loves people in love”) is one he thought would be reinforced by the film. Alas, not everyone got the memo. On Twitter, Videodrome star James Woods expressed his disapproval of the film’s portrayal of an affair between a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old by hash-tagging the peadophile advocacy group NAMBLA (the North American Man/Boy Love Association).[6] Hammer responded by tweeting: “Didn’t you date a 19-year-old when you were 60 …?”[7] before expressing platitudes about the power of art to “challenge perspectives” at Call Me By Your Name’s London Film Festival press conference.[8] (At the same press conference, Guadagnino — who’s seen Videodrome (1983) 150 times — urged Woods to actually watch the film, mainly because he really wants to work with the actor.[9])   

But it’s not just from hostile corners of the internet that the film’s depiction of gay sexuality has drawn criticism. There’s the ongoing debate about why prominent gay roles in movies are rarely played by openly gay actors (Guadagnino has said he “doesn’t like to label his performers”)[10]. The film’s original screenwriter, James Ivory, has also expressed his own frustration at the relative coyness of Guadagnino’s depiction of sex in the film, which tones down the nudity he’d written into the script — a consequence, he’s said, of working with American actors who have no-full-frontal-nudity clauses written into their contracts.[11] On this point, Guadagnino has stressed that it was his decision to minimise the explicitness, joking that he’d already sated his appetite for male nudity — so to speak — by having Ralph Fiennes let it all hang out on A Bigger Splash.[12]  

But if the sex is less explicit than the likes of God’s Own Country, it’s hardly chaste. A notorious scene from the book involving a peach is recreated in all its sensuous glory and the languid, lazy, carefree way sex is depicted in the film is very much in keeping with the languid, lazy, carefree Italian setting. Like its characters, the film is free and courageous enough to follow its own impulses. 

Alistair Harkness, Film Critic, The Scotsman
October 2017


[1] Luca Guadagnino, quoted by Sam C Mac, ‘Call Me By Your Name’, Review, Slant, https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/call-me-by-your-name

[2] Luca Guadagnino, quoted by Pamela Hutcheson in ‘My Summer of Love’, Sight & Sound, November 2017, pp. 33-34

[3]  Luca Guadagnino, BFI London Film Festival Press Conference, 9 October, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqF9703Et4c

[4]  Robert Fear, ‘Health Chief calls AIDS battle ‘No.1 Priority’, New York Times, 23 May, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/times-insider/2014/10/30/1983-having-claimed-558-lives-aids-finally-made-it-to-the-front-page/

[5]  Guadagnino, BFI London Film Festival Press Conference

[6] Tolly Woods, ‘If You Come at Armie Hammer on Twitter, He Will Call Out Your Creepy Dating History’, Vulture, 11 September 2017, http://www.vulture.com/2017/09/armie-hammer-calls-out-james-woods-on-creepy-sexual-history.html

[7]  Ibid.

[8] Armie Hammer, BFI London Film Festival Press Conference

[9] Guadagnino, BFI London Film Festival Press Conference

[10]  Luca Guadagnino, quoted by Ashley Lee, ‘Why Luca Guadagnino Didn't Include Gay Actors or Explicit Sex Scenes in Call Me by Your Name’, The Hollywood Reporter, 2 August 2017, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/call-me-by-your-name-why-luca-guadagnino-left-gay-actors-explicit-sex-scenes-q-a-973256

[11] James Ivory, quoted by Nick Vivarelli, ‘James Ivory on Call Me by Your Name and Why American Male Actors Won’t Do Nude Scenes, Variety, October 6, 2017, http://variety.com/2017/film/global/james-ivory-why-wont-u-s-actors-do-nude-scenes-starting-with-call-me-by-your-name-stars-1202581485/

[12]  Guadagnino, quoted by Lee, ’Why Luca Guadagnino Didn't Include Gay Actors or Explicit Sex Scenes in Call Me by Your Name’, The Hollywood Reporter; Guadagnino, quoted by Jamie Dunn, 'Call Me By Your Name’s director explains the film’s lack of nudity’, The Skinny, 16 October 2017, http://www.theskinny.co.uk/film/news/call-me-by-your-name-s-director-explains-the-film-s-lack-of-nudity

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