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16th February
written by Mad Cow

Morality Rating: R for sexual content, nudity [female], and some language

Mad cow’s rating:

Contrary to what you have heard, this is not a love story, except in the mind of the kid. It is a story about sexual longing. There is nothing wrong with sexual attraction or longing except when in a movie it is strung out for more than two hours with no relief. Directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by James Ivory, the film is based on a book by Andre Aciman. I am in a very small minority of critics who do not think much of the film. It received a 96% by critics and 87% for audience approval on Rotten Tomatoes. I thought it was boring.

Teenager Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet, Lady Bird) and his parents, Michael and Annella Michael Stuhlbarg (The Post; A Serious Man; The Shape of Water),  and Amira Casar (Night of a 1000 Hours; Planetarium) live in their summer home in Northern Italy, where his father archeologist does his research, unearthing ancient Greek sculpture. It’s 1983. We know it’s 1983 because there are no cell phones. Also, everyone smokes. Oliver (Armie Hammer, Sorry to Bother You; Final Portrait; Cars 3) is a graduate intern visiting for the summer to help Michael with his work. Elio has the hots for Oliver and soon we find out that the rather arrogant older man feels likewise.

There is barely a hint that the two guys like each other in ways other than physical. Elio is a musician and a composer and they have two-sentence conversations about it. They don’t spend time talking with each other but instead circle each other guardedly. We spend at least an hour waiting for the inevitable, about a half hour watching them have sex or prepare to have sex, and the rest viewing their inevitable break when Oliver has to leave.

Years ago there was a low-budget lesbian movie (There are almost no high-budget lesbian films.) called Claire of the Moon. It was one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. The two women spend tons of time mooning at each other, there are lots of “artistic” scenes of crashing waves, and aside from their getting together nothing happens. Such is Call me by your name in spite of the excellent production values and better cinematography.

The tension in the movie comes from the fact that the attraction is between a seventeen-year-old boy and an older man. Had it been two teen boys, or (horrors) a woman and a teen girl, it would not have been written, let alone dubbed a romance or gotten an Oscar nod. The age difference and the gender of the characters makes all the difference. And it could have been a fascinating story of the boy’s life had we seen more of his life and internal struggles along with the main plot.

The age difference does matter. The age of consent differs everywhere and it’s probably a matter of opinion about whether long-lasting damage was done to Elio via this consensual relationship. In Italy the age of consent is 14. Laws of consent were enacted when people started “waiting” to get married. In olden days heterosexual people married shortly after puberty and that was that. In this case Elio was robbed of having a first-time gay experience with someone his own age, during which the two could discover gay sex together. Oliver was not in a position of official power but clearly he was in charge of the situation(s), just as Elio was when he had sex with his supposed girlfriend. Oliver lamely asks Elio if he is OK. Clearly, though, it’s Oliver who could have made a different decision.

There is no character development and very little back-story to the movie. Michael and Annella are liberal and sophisticated. They host wonderful meals under the Italian sun on the patio with intellectual but nonetheless banal conversations studded with peals of laughter. We have seen this idyllic scene in movies before. The dialogue is mundane in the extreme and the characters stereotypically without depth. The stereotype even extends to two gay male dinner guests who look like they just stepped out of a scene from La Cage aux Folles. This undoubtedly is to heighten Elio’s turmoil about his gay attractions. He has sex with a girl in order to save himself. He later drops her like a Kleenex.

The only work we glimpse with any seriousness is Elio’s music, which is lovely.  Michael’s archeological findings, parts of sensual Greek statuary, appear only with comments on their sensuality. Why bother with some actual academic information?

There are no side stories and no complications, except for two jilted “girlfriends.” Oliver and Elio might as well have just gotten to it. I waited for something to happen, anything. We don’t get to see actual sex or frontal nudity and that’s good. Director Guadagnino has been quoted as wanting to give the two their “privacy.” Yet there’s something about the camera focusing on some bushes when the deed is done that is amusing. Why not just fade to black?

We do get to see the boy just as he prepares to masturbate with a peach, followed by Oliver finding the peach. You may think that this is a spoiler. I see it as a cautionary remark and anyway there are other sexual scenes that I won’t mention. At this point I was hoping that soon someone would get cancer or die, preferably Oliver, who is seen panting after a strenuous bike ride. There are several times when one thinks the end might be in sight, but noooo…

One marker of this film may be that in ancient Greece homosexuality most often occurred between men and adolescent boys. The practice was called “pederasty.” Adult men later married adolescent girls. Michael Perlman undoubted not only studied this practice but recognized its appeal, echoed in a strange, “hip father” talk to Elio toward the end. (Stuhlbarg is a superb actor and I wonder how he felt about this part.)

Regarding the acting, everything was on Hammer and Chalamet. They are both good and Chalamet, who has an Oscar nomination for best actor, was excellent. He had the best and most robust part and he does it well. Elio is totally infatuated. Chalamet was also great in Lady Bird. I look forward to seeing what else he can to.

See this movie at your own risk. Get up your enthusiasm by reading all of the rave reviews about a romantic love story and the award nominations for the film. Hey, it’s one woman’s opinion.  I wanted my two hours back. We laughed all the way out of the theater and decided to see Peter Rabbit as soon as possible.

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