The seduction of Call me by your name

When the American Egyptian’s novel André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name (Call me by your name), was published in 2007, earned the qualifications of “universal” and “modern homosexual classic” at the same time. The story of Elio, a brilliant teenager who enjoys and suffers from his first love in the arms of a sophisticated intellectual, resonated with critics and readers of all stripes for his first-person narrative – more than a “gay literature” story. or a simple “summer romance” – an intellectual, physical and sentimental connection. A longing for contact.

“Like all classic love stories,” wrote the literary critic of The Washington Post. “This one unfolds with the suspense of a thriller: will Elio’s passion finally be rewarded by the person he adores?” While waiting for an interaction with the subject of his desire, Elio feels “paralyzing fire, like bombs that steal all the oxygen around you and leave you gasping, while you hope that no one will speak, because you could not speak, and You pray that no one asks you to move, because your heart is so congested and beats so fast that it would surely spit out pieces of glass before anything else. The character is, in this sense, each and every one of the first-time passion victims who have walked the Earth since the beginning of time.

The book, on the other hand, has also been received with fascination by a good part of the LGBT community, over and above its clear heterosexual dimensions: it was written in three months by a married man who claimed never to have had a relationship with someone of his own. sex, in addition to the fact that the sexuality of its characters is never fully defined (they relate to both men and women).

André Aciman has said in several interviews that the story was, rather, the product of a truncated vacation: he was about to take his family to spend the summer in a Mediterranean village, but something prevented him. Frustrated, he began writing a story set on the Italian Riviera. He first imagined a sumptuous house surrounded by pine trees: “There was a young man in that house who was like a portrait of me, if he had grown up there,” Aciman recently told the New York Post. “And then another young man enters the scene [el interés amoroso de Elio]… I really wasn’t planning on writing that kind of story. It just sprouted out of my curiosity. ” That human approach and in a certain way incidental to the love story between two young men is what is now also celebrated in the film adaptation that the director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) has made the novel.

Starring Timothée Chalamet Y Armie Hammer, Call me by your name has become a sensation since its premiere in Sundance 2017: He received a standing ovation and has catapulted Chalamet into the Olympus of young revelations. Against all odds, the film remained memorable throughout the year – many Sundance gems fail to do so – until taking its place as one of the best films of 2017, by various counts, and a strong contender in awards season. The quality that often stands out about her is her “universality,” her gift for overflowing beyond the small audience that anticipates any homosexual-themed story.

call me by your name

The oldest tale of all

Along with movies like Secret in the mountain, Carol and the recent winner of the Oscar, Moonlight, Call me by your name has earned a place in the eye of cinema “mainstream”. Not all films focused on homosexual characters manage – nor do they wish, of course – to appeal to a place like that; However, what is it that has given these films a “universal” place in contemporary audiences?

“I think it has to do with the human,” the Mexican director tells us. Sergio Tovar Velarde, who has represented male homosexuality in his film Four moons (2014). “There are many ways of approaching a topic, and in these cases it occurs from the most human, the deepest, neither sexual preferences nor nationality nor skin color matter. It should be clarified that it is not bad to make a cinema with less accessible codes, as it is a powerful tool that, although it does not speak to everyone, to whom it does, it speaks loud and clear. I think that cinema about gay characters is by default considered niche and what allows certain films to transcend is their ability to make the general public forget that they are seeing a gay or a straight man on the screen and start seeing human beings ”.

In this sense, Call me by your name is presented (from the moment its author discovered it while writing) as a story without “sexual orientation”: a coming of age about first love, in which the characters happen to be of the same sex. It is not a factor that strongly determines dramatic events “as discovery and uncertainty are,” says Tovar Velarde. Above all, and just as it happened with the aforementioned Moonlight Y Secret in the mountain, finds its universality in the truncated desire, in the impossibility of accessing and expressing one’s own feelings, something that is related to the conventional image of the masculine. Call me by your name he finds his mass audience in the contained desire of his characters when looking at each other: in what boils, but cannot be said.

call me by your name

Love away from punishment

The fact that the characters of Elio (Chalamet) and Oliver (Hammer) live a romance isolated from the battles that usually torment homosexual relationships on screen (homophobia, social and family rejection, conservative dogmas, violence), immersed in a bubble of pleasures and intellectuality, has awakened in the public debate the need to identify a “new era” of films that touch on gay themes, in which the conflict does not arise from the sexuality of their characters. As examples of this, tapes such as the English one have been cited God’s Own Country (2017) –about a farmer who has a relationship with a migrant–; and the next Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti, 2018), about the life of a teenager trying to balance his high school life.

Armie Hammer made it clear in an interview for USA Today: “What I liked [de participar en Llámame por tu nombre] it was that no one had to pay anything to be gay. No one was beaten by a gang, no one got AIDS, no one had their family turned upside down. It’s just two people falling in love and I think that’s beautiful ”.

However, this depoliticized approach has also earned the film some critics, who accuse it of the tepidity of everything that it wishes to appeal to a wide audience. Especially when this subtlety has been taken advantage of by the same study, which at a certain point even tried to sell the story in the United Kingdom as a heterosexual romance by putting a misleading photograph on social networks, in which Elio appeared with a female character.

“In these turbulent times of political correctness in the cinema there is, without a doubt, a space for vindication for films on sexual diversity, which –of course– must be not very provocative, unlike, for example, films of Bruce LaBruce o de Todd Haynes”, The Mexican filmmaker tells us Roberto Fiesco –Winner of two awards Ariel for two projects with themes of sexual identity (Broken Y Trembling) -, who thinks that much of the seduction of Call me… is, right, in what does not say. “Rather, they tend towards complacency and are focused on a romantic story, not at all different from a heterosexual story, that takes care not to hurt any susceptibility. Call me… comes to represent that ‘normalization’ that the LGBTTTI movement sought so much (‘We are not different. We have the same rights’), which unfortunately also massifies and removes any element of countercultural and political provocation that the movement had in its beginnings. I think of the failure in America of 120 beats per minute, a film on a subject that continues to be uncomfortable (romance, on the other hand, is never uncomfortable) and shameful for conservative gringos such as HIV.

Given this, most of the questions consider it important not to forget that violence, discrimination and the lack of freedoms continue to be a nightmare for many homosexual people in latitudes outside the Italian Riviera of Elio. “Ultimately, I do not think these are issues that have been overcome, neither in Mexico nor in most of the world,” Tovar Velarde told us. “Great strides have been made but the struggle continues: many people are still having a very bad time. It is likely that the way of representing their conflicts has become repetitive, but it is not that a theme is wasted: with a dose of originality, none expires. Speaking of gay life in Mexico, I find that CDMX has advanced at such a speed that it creates the illusion that in the rest of the country, for everyone, things are simple. And no”.

(A version of this article was published in Cinema PREMIERE # 281)

Armie Hammer Call me by your name Luca Guadagnino oscar 2018
Jessica Oliva Journalist, editor at Cine PREMIERE and frustrated dancer in her spare time. Fond of cinema, literature, tango, useless data and the opportunity to wake up doing whatever it takes.

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