CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

[ 1 ] December 1, 2017 |

A VOYAGE TROUGHT DISCOVERY AND DESIRE

~ by joel martens ~

armie hammer as oliver and timothée chalamet as elio photography by sayombhu mukdeeprom, courtesy of sony pictures classics

 

Who among us doesn’t remember those disconcerting first twinges of sexual attraction? How about the rush of discovery when the attraction was reciprocated? Then, the breathless, heady intensity that followed during the pursuit of, or the chase by, the object of that attraction…those first thralls of love, the passion of those first explorations and losing one’s self to the dizzying intensity of it all.

I’m not a betting man, but I’ll wager that almost every person reading this, male, female, gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual or otherwise, knows the precise moment I’m alluding to, on whom the attraction was focused and the exact location, time and place where it happened to them the first time.

Mine was summer of ’81, I was nineteen and just learning to test my wobbly gay wings and taking my first steps away from things familiar. I had just joined a community theatre group in Northern Wisconsin and was doing a musical theatre review (of course). The moment involved a boy my age from Oregon, a hostile director, a freezing old Victorian house and many, many ardor-fueled miles on my red ’74 Mustang. Even though it eventually came to an end, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” could have kept this young man from drowning himself in those piquant, exhilarating moments.

Those breathless moments are the basis of the story masterfully told by Director Luca Guadagnino and the film Call Me By Your Name. Not unlike those first sweet moments of love, he has done so with deep sensitivity—managing to create the essence of innocence and the sensuality of young love—while imbuing the film with summer’s delicious, languorous ease and the abandon of those moments. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s lens captures those exquisite happenings, putting one in mind of earlier, panoramic Merchant Ivory productions such as Maurice. Films in which you not only viewed summer’s ease and the happenstance of love on screen, you were permeated by them…it’s no wonder, since James Ivory was part of the production team.

We had the chance to sit down with Director Luca Guadagnino, Armie Hammer [Oliver], Timothée Chalamet [Elio], and Michael Stuhlbarg [Mr. Perlman, Elio’s father] to discuss the process of creating the magic.

timothée chalamet as elio and armie hammer as oliver photography by sayombhu mukdeeprom, courtesy of sony pictures classics

 

It’s a beautiful, artfully made film. The political climate in the world and in the U.S. today has many similar reflections in the time period in which this film was shot, as far as the political climate and the LGBT community. When you were making this, how much relevance did that have on how you approached this film?

Luca Guadagnino [director]: I think that the inclination towards hatred, the inclination towards a sort of entitlement and the idea that you can mock people, the idea that there is no time for compassion is something that I feel around myself. I hope that Call Me By Your Name, even with this title, which is a stroke of genius from André Aciman, because it bids you to invite the other. It is a tiny attempt into indulging the opposite of what went before: Compassion in sharing, in mutuality, in fragility, that’s what I feel about it.

Oliver was very elusive in the earlier parts of the film. It was a different time back then in the ‘80s when this was shot. Things like being gay were much less accepted at that point in time. Can you talk a little about what it was like trying to incorporate that reality into shooting this film?

Armie Hammer [Oliver]: I agree with you. I also think that, for me, that’s where Oliver’s “Later” comments kind of comes from. It’s not a sort of a confident “I’m done with this conversation, so I’ll see you later.” I think it’s much more to do with whatever is going on inside of him and whatever is going on there makes him really uncomfortable, I can’t acknowledge, I can’t deal. I gotta get out of here so I’m out… “Later.” Until it percolates and percolates and percolates inside him. You might be able to bury something like that inside of you for a while, but you’re actually just burying a seed and it’s only going to grow and grow.

There’s also a wonderful progression that happens in the film, watching two human beings become more and more enthralled with each other and then finally feeling comfortable enough to open themselves up completely and say, “This is exactly who I am.” Then having that received and reciprocated is such a wonderful thing that we all want and if we’re lucky enough, to have experienced and remember. I think that’s why this movie connects with so many people, because regardless of your orientation or identification, you’ve felt those feelings before. Being totally incapacitated by this feeling of want, of desire for another person and then having it come to fruition…and then maybe having it go away. Those are base human emotions and experiences everybody has dealt with and I think that’s why so many are connecting with the movie.

timothée chalamet as elio photography by sayombhu mukdeeprom, courtesy of sony pictures classics

Can you talk about the experience of getting to know your characters and what that was like? What have you taken away from knowing them?

Timothée Chalamet [Elio]: There was a tremendous gift in working with the source material and the novel, particularly getting to play Elio versus Oliver, because it was very much a first-person narrative and is told so fiercely from Elio’s point of view. I’m not a purist myself in the sense that bleeding a part of me into the character appropriately and melding the parts of you that are temporary or make sense in the moment is okay.

I really more than anything wanted to represent a relationship that just flowered by way of experience and time spent with him [Oliver/Armie]. We had the random luck of the universe in that he and I got along very naturally, just as two human beings would who strike up a friendship. It was like that on set and has flowered and stayed that way in the year and a half since. When it came time to shooting it, you just kind of have to let it all go and hope, and this is the cardinal rule for me, that you’ve not let it be boring. (Laughs)

A.H: There’s a lot that I learned and there is a lot to learn from a character like Oliver. Both in the things that he does well and the things that you can look at objectively and say, “Maybe he didn’t handle that as well as he could have.” Maybe there was a different way he would have taken if he were bolder or braver.” I think he represents that thing in all of us, the duality of being human. What you want and what you choose to go for, aren’t necessarily the same thing and that can cause issues. I think he is a beautifully complicated character, who struggles with a lot of the turmoil and self-doubt that we all do, but, he’s very good at covering it.

There is a languorousness, a sensuality and richness about Call Me By Your Name cinematically and texturally that reminds me intensely of Merchant Ivory Films. I was pleasantly surprised to know that James Ivory was involved in the screenplay. Can you talk a little about what it was like to work with him?

L.G. I think that Jim had the ability and sensitivity to embrace the innocence of the book by André Aciman and tailor it in a fashion that was right for the rhythm of the movie. Even though of course, we managed to work on the script more, with each shooting. He is a master of the figurative in everything he’s attempted. He has a very beautiful and pristine spirit about him.

This film had so many beautiful, touching moments. For all the actors to be able portray those moments must have been such a deeply moving experience. To actually have the time to imbibe your characters with such deep emotion must have been amazing.

A.H. There is one great example that people go to when people say this movie just lets everything live and it doesn’t rush the scene.  It’s the moment where we are riding bikes and we ride past the cameras and we just keep riding, and keep riding. You watch these two people who are really enjoying the summer and each other so much, they enjoy it so much that they sort of just disappear into it. If that film was made by a studio or by an American production company, I think our sense of ADD would kick in and we’d let them go for maybe five seconds and go, “Okay, okay, let’s go to the next thing.” Like Luca said, everyone’s become such a slave to pleasure that nobody enjoys desire or the things that lead up to it.  Things that take their time and grow and live in a way, that it feels like you live a summer almost real time as well.

armie hammer as oliver photography by sayombhu mukdeeprom, courtesy of sony pictures classics

Elio’s father in this film was remarkable: His absolute acceptance, total compassion, and love for his son was so touching. What was the experience of portraying him like and was it something you pulled from your own world?

Michael Stuhlbarg [Elio’s father, Mr. Perlman]: Having any inkling of that kind of compassion and love comes from my mom and dad, so tapping into that was as easy as speaking for me. On top of that, I was given some delightful, touching and fun things to say, so it really was a combination of the two. That along with Luca’s guidance and the inspiration of working with Tim and Armie made it easy: I was dazzled by their honesty and fearlessness in diving into this material.

Let’s talk about the peach scene a little bit. It’s certainly been getting a lot of attention.  What do you think about how people are responding. And second, how did you manage to keep it sensual and yet so unsalacious? 

L.G. The absolute heroes of the scene are Timothee and Armie, because they can make a moment between them go from the sexual curiosity of Elio to the shame of Elio and the curiosity of Oliver and the aggressiveness of Elio and then finally the outcome of it all. Then too there is the sense of dread, the realization that they are not going to be together for much time anymore…the sense that there isn’t a way to put off that pain is palpable.

The real secret to how the scene works and how it moves is our wonderful cinematographer.  When you shoot a scene like that, you don’t want to end up in a space where people giggle.  You need a focus and a concentration and devotion to the beauty of the things that these men have and were sharing in their lives. When we were shooting the end of the scene when Elio finally cries on Oliver’s shoulder and Oliver from being sort of an aggressor, becomes immediately a welcomer. I remember crying during the movie, because that weakness is something beautiful and the timeliness of it and to share it in that way was beautiful.

I’d like to touch on the film’s ending and try to understand how you prepared yourself for such an intense, long shot. What was going through your mind, your inner monologue and how you moved into and stayed in that space.

T.C: There was the gift of being able to have an earpiece and actually playing Sufjan Stevens’ song “Visions of Gideon” throughout that take. There is a certain structure that song takes narratively and it was so perfect for the film because it’s sort of analogous to the way the relationship is played out. The feeling of love lost, yet also sort of a “Don’t cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened,” kind of thing. There was also the added benefit of the camera being in the fire, so there was nobody behind it, so I was just staring into the fire. As far as the inner monologue goes, I had a great warning from a drama teacher when I was 13-years-old about being careful about drawing from personal experiences, because you just don’t want to blur those lines too much. You want to protect yourself, emotionally in real life and yet, for a close up that long, things that read inauthentic will ruin the whole thing.

timothée chalamet as elio and armie hammer as oliver photography by sayombhu mukdeeprom, courtesy of sony pictures classics

The music in this film is so vital. How did you go about selecting the composer and all the other works?

L.G: The book by André Aciman is told in the third person singular of the character Elio, from the point of reference of the haze of summer. I admire the idea of a sort of narrator, who is sort of omniscient. I am enamored by collaboration and companionship and I thought about Sufjan Stevens, how poised and poetic and how musical his voice was. It, as is his personality, is so strong and in a way that was parallel to Aciman’s books and reflected the kind of movie we wanted to make.

Almost a year before we shot, I thought to get in touch with him and we started conversations over the phone, that led him to send us three songs, two new [“Visions of Gideon,” “Mystery of Love”] and one remix of “Futile Devices.” We were together at my house the afternoon in which we received the songs and I played them for everyone. It literally made me experience the feeling of having received some kind of masterpiece. To know that it was something I was going to get to use in our movie, it was incredible. I owe a lot to Sufjan and love him so much.

The ending had been there since I took over as the director of the movie. It says, “Elio stares at the fire.” That was the script and that was it. It was something I was savoring in my mind, like when you have a little bit of cognac or whiskey and you savor the flavors. I was really looking forward to creating that because there were two films that I love that possess that same quality, one I don’t know the English title, but is a movie by Robert Bresson, Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut (A Man Escaped, 1956) and the other is Paul Schrader’s film, Light Sleeper (1992) and they both end with an extreme closeup of the main character. Holding the camera there for three to four minutes. I promised myself one day that I was going to find the intensity in the performance of someone and do that… and I did with Call Me By Your Name.

Call Me By Your Name is in theaters now and receiving a great deal of awards buzz. Check your local listings and go see this film, you will absolutely understand why if you do.  And perhaps stir a pleasant remembrance of your own first love.

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  1. Bill Kelly says:

    Incredible writing, Joel. Thank you for sharing thus piece. We can’t wait to see it.

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