A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Director Luca Guadagnino's "Call Me by Your Name" has been winning plaudits from critics and has earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The lyrical love story between two closeted gay men is set in Italy in 1983.Timothée Chalamet plays Elio, a 17 year-old Jewish-American high school student who is also of Italian heritage. He lives a seemingly idyllic life in a villa located in rural Italy. He's a brilliant student, able to converse in multiple languages and also displays stunning musical talents.His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor of archaeology who annually invites a graduate student to spend six weeks at the villa to assist in cataloging materials pertaining to excavations of historical finds. This year's student is Oliver (wonderfully played by Armie Hammer), a hunky, charismatic American who arrives at the villa and takes over Elio's bedroom, thus evicting Elio to an adjoining room. Whatever resentments Elio is feeling about being summarily moved from his own bedroom vanish when he lays eyes on Oliver. Elios, we learn, is hiding a secret: he's gay. Despite the fact that he is a popular figure in the small, intimate circle of his high school friends, he is actually a lonely, frustrated person with seemingly no outlet for romantic desires. He plays the game of acting straight and even has an attractive French girlfriend, Marzia (Esther Garrel) but he only has eyes for Oliver. Elios suspects Oliver may also be gay but ponders whether certain subtle gestures are actually acts of flirtation or just figments of his imagination. His doubts grow when Oliver predictably becomes the object of desire among local young women- and Oliver seems to be enthused about capitalizing on their intentions. Much of the early stages of the film concentrate on Elios trying to decipher Oliver's sexuality and whether he should make an overt pass at him. Ultimately, his question is answered when the two spend an afternoon together in the countryside. What follows is a carefully choreographed scenario in which the two try to maximize their time together without raising suspicions of those around them. Within a short time both realize that their relationship is one of genuine love, not just lust. They also realize that it is inevitably doomed as the clock ticks down to the day Oliver must return to America.
"Call Me by Your Name" (which boasts a grand total of twenty producers/executive producers) is a highly emotional love story that unspools over a leisurely running time of 132 minutes. That would ordinarily seem overlong but the laid back pace keeps in-synch with the lazy atmosphere of the Italian setting, where no one seems to be in a hurry and everyone is enjoying la dolce vita. The running time also allows director Guadagnino to fully develop not only the two main characters, but the supporting figures as well. It's a marvelous collection of diverse people, thanks to screenwriter James Ivory and source novelist Andre Aciman. The film succeeds on all levels. The acting is superb throughout with even minor roles expertly portrayed. The real triumph is that of Chalamet, who delivers a finely-tuned portrayal of a teenager who not only has to cope with the usual psychological challenges of being on the verge of adulthood, but who also must suppress his sexuality. Both his father and mother (Amira Casar) defy stereotypes in scenarios such as this by being progressive and sympathetic to their son. Both can instantly see the mutual attraction between Elios and Oliver and conspicuously try to afford them the maximum amount of time together. The film has numerous scenes that are highly moving and emotional, one of which is a long talk between father and son in which Elios's dad delivers a life-affirming talk to Elios that makes it clear he is accepted and loved for who he is. It's superbly enacted by Michael Stuhlbarg, who probably should have received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. There is also a wonderful score that incorporates classically-styled works with contemporary rock. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is tantalizing enough to make you book the next flight to Italy. What is refreshing about the film is the lack of contrived crisis points one would expect to see pretentiously introduced into the story. Instead, everyone in the film is a good person. No artificial crisis is introduced aside from the inevitable parting of the lovers, which does pack a tremendous punch in a "Bridges of Madison County" kind of way. The film's haunting final image of Elios is extraordinary. You must stay through it and not leave the theater, even as the credits role over the image.
After decades of gay characters being either ignored completely in films or used as objects of ridicule or derision, it's satisfying to see we've finally reached a point where a same-sex love story can be presented in a mature, intelligent manner that will appeal to mainstream audiences. "Call Me by Your Name" is the epitome of an art house movie but with the strong reviews and word-of-mouth it is generating, the film is exhibiting significant cross-over appeal. Highly recommended.