London Film Festival Review: Call Me By Your Name
The Pitch: “One does a whole painting for one peach and people think just the opposite – that particular peach is but a detail.” — Pablo Picasso
The Review: I’ve been writing this blog for seven years now. I say writing, I used to churn out a thousand words of incisive wit every other day and now I spend most of my time talking about films on radio rather than writing on them here. Foolishly, because I’m clearly so good at committing to writing, I’d love to start a food blog at some point, having developed a love of cooking that finally matches my love of eating over the past twenty years. When I went to university twenty-five years ago my entire repertoire consisted of cottage pie with tinned mince, roast potatoes and a passable apple crumble. Now my love of cookery is almost as well travelled as my love of cinema: these days I’ll attempt food from almost as many cultures as those from which I sample films.
One particular fondness I’ve developed is for Italian cuisine. Forget sloppy spag bols with sauce out of a jar or last night’s reheated pizza, the best Italian food uses a handful of ingredients but makes sure they are of the highest quality. Clearly you can guess where I’m going with this food-based metaphor, but it’s a perfect fit for Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, an adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel. Originally due to be co-directed by James Ivory, famous for his British period dramas produced by Ismail Merchant, Ivory instead sold the script to Guadagnino to keep the financiers happy, and it’s allowed CALL ME BY YOUR NAME to retain a simple, pure focus.
The film is built around two central performances, both of which are revelatory in their own ways. Timothée Chalamet has so far had a career of small parts, including MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN and INTERSTELLAR, while Armie Hammer is best known for his literally two-faced role in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and for being the unfortunate sidekick in the lead role in the underrated THE LONE RANGER. Here, Chalamet is teenager Elio, spending the summer with his family at their Lombardy villa but displaced from his bedroom by Hammer’s visiting student Oliver. Elio is immediately in awe of the standoffish Oliver, but doesn’t know how to process his initial feelings and finds different outlets for his frustrations – including a stunted flirtation with local girl Marzia (Esther Garrel) – before his and Oliver’s facades gradually lower.
It’s difficult to know which of the two performances is better, but that’s a nice dilemma to have for any film. Chalamet is wiry and slippery, a buzz of teenage energy driven by a keen mind but with his musical talents the only outlet for his passion until Oliver’s arrival. Oliver, direct and abrupt almost to the point of insolence in Elio’s eyes, still has a magnetism that won’t let Elio’s gaze alone. It’s the beauty of the way that their relationship is developed, the occasional brush of human contact here, a knowing gaze there, every moment believable and compelling. The two unite over their common interests and their heritage, closeted Jews in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and first their minds and then their bodies are drawn together. Oliver’s cautiousness is understandable; Elio is only seventeen, and while mature in many ways childish in others, but as his adolescence flowers it’s nurtured comfortingly by Oliver’s gradually revealed warmth.
The warmth isn’t just in the performances of the two leads, but in everything that Guadagnino’s brought together. While his previous films such as I AM LOVE and A BIGGER SPLASH have certainly had moments of warmth and tenderness, they’ve often been mixed slightly more with brusqueness and cynicism. Here, Ivory’s script is a masterclass in human emotion, slowly peeling away the layers of the two leads and drawing you into their intimacy. It’s backed up by Guadagnino’s direction, but also by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography, capturing the lushness of the Italian countryside and giving the film the feel of a faded memory of summers past, and by songs from Sufjan Stevens on the soundtrack. Even the Eighties setting of the film is layered on gracefully, with a Talking Heads T-shirt and a Walkman feeling redolent of the time but unobtrusive in the northern Italian landscape.
In a way, the film saves one of its greatest assets for last. Chekov’s Gun is a dramatic principle that you shouldn’t put a gun on the wall if you’re not going to fire it later, and it’s the parents (Amira Cassar and Michael Stuhlbarg) who observe for the majority of the film from the sidelines, occasionally giving dramatic impetus but mainly making us envious of summers in the countryside. But a climactic scene between Stuhlbarg and Chalamet raises the emotional intensity of the film to almost achingly beautiful levels, possibly giving us the first instance of Chekhov’s Stuhlbarg committed to film and hopefully not the last when he’s as good as he is here.
Even from our more enlightened 21st century position it feels strange that so few films still deal in non-heterosexual relationships without characters or the film ever sitting in judgement. For that alone CALL ME BY YOUR NAME should be applauded, but for the fact that it presents itself as one of the most realistic, tender and honest films about relationships and maturity ever made it should be cherished.
Why see it at the cinema: The best way to immerse yourself in the experience and to fully embrace the pleasures of Guadagnino’s stunning film are to sit in the largest, darkest room you can find, ideally one where the film is being projected onto the walls.
What about the rating: Rated 15 for strong sex, although there’s been much stronger on screen. Blue Is The Warmest Colour or 9 Songs this is not.
My cinema experience: The one particularly odd artistic choice made by Guadagnino was the sound of heavy drilling which he chose to add as a constant to the soundtrack. How did anyone ever relax in 1980’s Italy with all of that drilling going on? Took me a good ten minutes to realise that the drab, depressing surroundings of the Odeon Leicester Square had been supplemented by construction work elsewhere in Leicester Square. It didn’t seem to affect the general enjoyment of the assembled press and industry throng at the BFI press screening, as the film got a solid ovation at the end.
The Score: 10/10
Review: The Lone Ranger
The Pitch: Cowboys and ex-Pirates.
The Review: Giaochino Rossini may just have been the most famous composer of his time in Italy. He’d composed over three dozen operas, including such enduring works as The Barber Of Seville, by the time he was 37. It was at this point he produced what may be his most recognised work of all, the opera William Tell, from which this overture (the March Of The Swiss Soldiers) is taken:
But your level of knowledge of classical music will dictate as to whether you recognise it more from the story of a man who shot an arrow from his son’s head, or from the story of a Texas ranger who teams up with an American Indian, riding the plains in the search for truth and justice. Having pirated the Caribbean to its every corner, the team of Johnny Depp, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and composer Hans Zimmer (to name the most prominent collaborators) have turned their attentions to the almost mythical story first transmitted on radio in the Thirties and then the subject of an equally successful TV series in the Fifties. This adaptation has met with critical derision and audience apathy, but that may give a somewhat distorted view of what could be described as somewhere between an fascinating failure and a heavily qualified triumph.
It’s reported that Rossini met Beethoven in 1822. “Ah, Rossini,” said Ludwig, “So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.” It would be fair to say that Team Bruckheimer haven’t wandered too far from their standard template either, with anyone who’s seen any of the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies recognising the mix of spectacular, CGI based action, slightly overwrought drama and a variety of eccentric performances. This version is also surprisingly faithful to the origin story as laid out by the original creators of the Lone Ranger: John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a lawyer who is deputised by his Texas Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale) in an effort to recapture outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and return him to face justice at the request of railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). When the Ranger gang is ambushed and John left for dead, he’s encouraged by oddball Indian Tonto (Depp) to put on a mask and to join him in his own hunt for Cavendish.
You might be familiar with its signature overture, but you may not have heard the entirety of Rossini’s WIlliam Tell given that it runs to over four hours if performed in full. The Lone Ranger runs to two and a half and feels overextended at that length, but actually not by much. Its two more obvious faults are never quite knowing how to make the framing device work (recalling The Princess Bride, but with an aging Tonto talking to a young masked Lone Ranger fan at a San Francisco funfair), and never quite getting the balance between the slightly more otherworldly, almost cartoonish Tonto (and when I say cartoonish, think Droopy with his succinct sentences and his unusual world view) and the genuine American Indians who form one of the many sub-plots. The performances are generally satisfactory, but if we’re drawing the Pirates comparisons then the closest anyone gets to the scenery chewing fun of a Geoffrey Rush is Fichtner, who lends The Lone Ranger a darker, more grounded edge, while Wilkinson does his usual thing about as well as ever. There’s an initial sense of unbalance with the nominal sidekick actually playing the lead, but if you can retune your expectations then Depp imbues Tonto with depth and shade and Hammer also finds a journey to take Reid through. A lively cameo from Helena Bonham Carter also helps to keep things light.
After writing William Tell, Rossini to all intents and purposes retired, and while he composed other works later in life, including his Stabat Mater in two chunks over a twelve year period, William Tell was his final opera. Johnny Depp has also been rumoured to be thinking of retiring, although at a much greater age than Rossini, and there’s a certain sense of finality to The Lone Ranger, the combination of the framing device and the critical mauling very much giving the impression that The Lone Ranger is that particular rarity in summer blockbusters, the stand-alone film that will defy the sequel trend. Maybe in future years the baggage of Bruckheimer will be cast off and The Lone Ranger will be seen in a different light; there are two or three different shifts of tone – as evidenced by any film whose references run the spectrum from Once Upon A Time In The West to Back To The Future, Part III and whose hugely entertaining, action packed finale draws on both Buster Keaton’s The General and Wallace And Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers – and those variations in tone from quite dark to light and fluffy may have alienated some, but there’s quite a bit to enjoy. It may not be as focused as the previous Verbinski / Depp Western Rango, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you’ve heard and it settles nicely in the middle of the spectrum of this summer’s blockbusters.
Why see it at the cinema: For anything set on a train, where the cinema screen opens up the spectacle perfectly. As well as the spectacular train-based ending there’s also some fun train shenanigans at the beginning. It’s not huge on laughs but there is the odd chuckle to share with as big an audience as you can find.
What about the rating? Rated 12A for moderate violence and injury detail. Unusually for a 12A blockbuster these days, though, there’s no strong language; the strongest words on offer here are “damn”, “hell” and “harlot”. (Yes, harlot, apparently. Go figure.)
My cinema experience: Not much to report here; the Cineworld in Cambridge slung it on one of their larger screens, and a decent (maybe just over half-full) Sunday afternoon crowd were treated to a Bruckheimering of average standard for a couple of hours. No projection or audience misbehaviour issues to report.
The Score: 6/10