Saturday 17 February 2018

The Current Cinema - Max Berghouse takes a contrary position on CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)

Over a period of time I have read two gay themed novels. I have certainly read more than that in which there was some gay context or subtext but these two impressed themselves on my mind, initially because they were recommended by the Times Literary Supplement, as extremely worthwhile examples of literature. The first was "Brokeback Mountain" (Annie Proulx, 1997) and the second "Call Me by Your Name" (André Aciman, 2007). As I write this, I realise even in the case of the latter book that it is more than a decade since I read it and I really had no idea that time had passed so quickly. Ignoring for the moment the plot and subject matter of each, mainly I was struck at just how "filmic" each novella was. Each is only just a little more than 150 pages and it seemed to me when I had finished reading that it only required each to be more or less topped and tailed and with a greater reliance on dialogue for exposition, for these to be turned into movies.

I doubted very much at the time of reading that the subject matter was ever likely to be made into a film. How wrong I proved to be. I particularly liked Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee), which conveys all the mounting sense of tragedy and loss which can be a feature of Ms Proulx's work.  Although it was widely debated at the time of this film, as to whether or not it was a "gay" love story or simply a "love story", I then took the view that it was simply a love story which amplified our understanding of the human condition, whether or not the protagonists were heteronormative or gay. I still take that view.

So it cannot be on the grounds of subject matter that I found the more recent film Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino), not merely execrable, but what is worse, utterly boring. Critics pretty much everywhere have praised this film to the skies and one regularly reads reports even now of gay people reduced to tears in watching the film. On the other hand, only extreme discipline of character enabled me to watch the film from beginning to end.

…So… a few singular instances of why I found the film a failure.

Beautifully set in north Italy in one of those fabulous farmhouse-villas which may or may not have been designed by Palladio but certainly are architecturally indebted to him. Such houses were frequently bought up by wealthy Americans at the end of the Second World War. It is furnished with the casual chic of such wealth as is not required to actually keep the place clean. Inside conversation is uniformly "arty" especially as the young protagonist (Elio)'s, father is an academic and Elio himself is clearly gifted. So it conveys to pretty much every audience member how much easier it is to endure the pangs and losses of love – if one is wealthy. In fact as Hollywood frequently shows, pretty much everything is better if you have money!

More or less complying with the old adage of Hollywood that to be a success in Hollywood, one must BE Jewish, so long as one does not LOOK Jewish, any specific Jewish connection, either religious or social, seems to have been washed out. Timothée Chalamet who is in fact Jewish, certainly doesn't look other than relatively WASPISH and although he is in fact much the same age as Elio, I thought he was misplaced, looking far too much like an ephebe. Similarly Armie Hammer (who is also partly Jewish by background) looks perfectly Ivy League, East Coast patrician. Although I think he does his best with the role, I think he is too old. I mean for the role. I found the attraction between the two utterly unconvincing. I also thought that the aspects of physical attraction, much less any hint of sexual play, to be so restrained and without the slightest hint of prurience, as to be positively coy.

The very end of the film when Elio returns to the villa, crushed by his misadventures with Oliver, his father (played by the excellent Michael Stuhlbarg) speaks to him (or better yet addresses him in a soliloquy) that the future will be better and brighter, in a speech so mawkish and ill-tuned to the subject matter that causes it, as to be positively embarrassing.

If I were to try and pinpoint why the film is unsuccessful, it's probably because it moves at such a glacial pace. And I think that might be attributed to James Ivory. Of course Mr Ivory, with his late production partner, directed a string of really wonderful films but I think in this case, as a very very elderly man, he cannot bring the required tension and drama as he would have in prior years as director.

And why has the film been so robustly endorsed by the industry. Perhaps because it opens an avenue for a new subject matter, previously poorly explored by the industry, which, if exploited, might bring more bums on seats.

So there's my take, made in the full knowledge that just about anyone who is anyone in the industry has given exactly the opposite opinion.

1 comment:

  1. Gay themed material is only poorly exploited by the industry in arthouse drivel like this. European cinema in particular has a distinguished history of gay themed and charactered film, for instance Andre Techine' 1993 breakthrough hit, Les Roseaux Sauvages (Wild Reeds ) which is enomrously successful artistically and commercially. It's Guadagnino who is exploiting this supposedly ripe genre and he spends as much time in press saying how much it is NOT a gay movie. It is and it's a very bad one. I for one don't need or endorse universality when it's used as an artistic beard.


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