“Call Me by Your Name”

Director Luca Guadagnino has given us a sensual ode to first love. While we all can identify with those feelings of being completely enveloped in another, “Call Me By Your Name” is a gay film. The screenplay by James Ivory is based on a novel by Andre Aciman. Greek statuary and Whitman’s body electric are on full display. Lovely Northern Italian scenes of fountains, orchards, and riversides mesh with stonewalled villas and alfresco dining. The handsome Armi Hammer is Oliver, 24 , brilliant, confident, and charming. An American doctoral student ready for a six-week stint helping an archeology professor ( Michael Stuhlbarg ) and father to seventeen year-old, Elio. ( Timothee Chalamet)  We know what the circumstances will ignite, but it will be a slow, romantic smolder. This is a film with no gender boundaries in love.

Timothee Chalamet is amazing as the young virtuoso pianist, who is both embarrassed and controlled by his gonads. This is a coming-of-age film and a celebration of the joy two people can feel when they appreciate and understand each other. At the same time, when Elio puts Oliver’s bathing trunks over his head and breathes deeply, we laugh at his impetuosity. Chalamet was also the love interest in the film “Lady Bird” . His easy change from  sophisticate  to innocent is fun to compare.

The themes of  pain and joy in total intimacy and their  obsession reminds me of Scott Spencer’s  novel “ Endless Love”. It may not be healthy, but it is romantic. Scenes where Elio places his matching Star of David necklace on his own body are as sweet as the juicy peach scene. The staring into the fire ending will melt your heart.

Armi Hammer is an Adonis who can not dance, but glows in Elio’s rapture. As Oliver, his  flirtatiousness and self-restraint are attractive end marks in his personality. We smile at his easy American nonchalance, even his chambray shirt. We know he cares deeply. All this is entwined with academic discussions on Brunel’s cinema, 17th c. German romance readings, and glorious pond swims in freezing alpine drifts.

Elio’s father’ s reaching-out speech elevates Elio’s suffering  and experience, though it made me a tad sad for Mr. and Mrs. Perlman’s marriage. Somehow, after viewing this film, the title made consummate sense. “Call Me By Your Name” or taking on your lover’s name personifies oneness here. It is a lovely film about human connection. Life tells me there will be a sequel, and that some many re-visit “ The Cosmic Fragments of Heraclitus” and the art and thought of other pre-Socratic philosophers.


“A Bigger Splash”

” We are all obscene, but we love each other anyway.”  is  our  main character’s line. In society, this can mean a shipwreck.   In “A Bigger Splash” it means “Wow”. Complete sentences don’t do this film justice.

Terrific editing, a ballet of carefully chosen images, an art piece of a film with metaphors toppling metaphors ! A psychological study of privileged lives, a beautiful film about unbeautiful people. A melodrama of gecko- smashing miscreants, a film where the protagonists are more comfortable  with their bodies than they are with their psyches. I loved every frame and adored the use of  emotive music leading me on.

“A Bigger Splash” is a character driven film with scirocco winds stirring the scenes. Somehow we know there are people like this, they just are not our friends. The whole cast is terrific, supporting and starring. A quartet with maid and public servants all composing a symphony of selfish wants and jealous betrayals .

Ralph Fiennes is not the English patient here. I have never seen him more animated, more needy, more scheming, or more irritatingly playful. ” I found you!” he sings to his ex- lover when it is obvious that she did not wish to be found. His  enthusiastic dance scenes may be on the indulgent side, but we know the type. And they are fun to watch.

Fiennes plays Harry, the former producer and lover of ” the woman of the century”, rocker Marianne. ( Tilda Swinton) He never stops talking. He even memorizes Italian phrases  as “put-downs” like ” vomit your soul”. He cooks, guts fish with his hands, sculpts dough and takes Marianne after gulping warm ricotta?  ” Taste it while it is warm”.

Harry ends up cold dead in the swimming pool, but it isn’t because he slept with his daughter ( Dakota Johnson). He didn’t. He just made it his business to find his  younger friend Paul  six years after he suggested that Paul and Marianne hook-up.

The island  setting is Italian, where you can smell the jasmine waft from Tunisian shores. The cinematography is lush and inventive. Close-ups are held just long enough for us to focus on character facades, and see deeper. Vistas of clouds and tidal pools give us Adam and Eve terrain that this quartet messes up.

The intrigue is mesmerizing. The sensuality down to mud bathing and hair trimming extreme. The nudity more than European, and the ceiling-holding orgasms pushing it. I loved it, though I doubt the butt shot was Fiennes’. His swim strokes  synchronized to the flow of an aria equals cinematic explosion.

The dialogue is fresh and witty. Marianne is resting her voice. She uses sign language and whispers. Swinton is raspy and self-possessed. Her androgynous looks are rarely rattled, and when they are, we take notice. Harry prods her with, ” Did he (Paul) put a bell on your neck?” She is complicated, both direct and secretive. ” Chose a dress for me.” ” I’m happy, Harry. Can’t you stand that?”  Her motherly instinct is compassionate and refreshing. She is small when she tries to direct investigators to refugees as  probable murderers.

Matthias  Schoenaerts is sympathetic until he poses the dead Harry with his vinyl  album hits at the pool’s bottom. Harry had an impulse to humiliate. Paul knows that Harry did not come to the island for capers of the tiny, green sort.  As a reformed addict and  botched suicide , his Paul has a fatal knowing about him that seems archetypal. Schoenaerts can pull off  this kind of depth.

In many ways, ” A Bigger Splash” seems operatic, a farce, but we are the buffoons. It is a cinematic tour de force, that almost makes fun of itself. “A Bigger Splash” has then at least six meanings. The rockstar’s lover, Paul , getting away with murder because a policeman is enamoured  by Marrianne’s stardom being a big one.

Dakota Johnson plays  Penelope, a seventeen-year-old sexual tease, who must deal with the fact that she may have precipitated her father’s tragic death. Her pouty ways reminded me of the real Dakota of Oscar interview fame who made her mother endure her snark on camera. Kudos to Luca Guadagnino , who, directed her well. Her peevish ” I need more treasure.” says it for them all. The storyline and the writing of this erotic thriller are top- notch.   I felt it was a marvel.