I recently visited New York City, where I love to see and report on theatre, but I feel compelled to share my experience of seeing an extraordinary film in the Big Apple.
You know the expression “only in New York”: Seeing a film in the Paris Theatre, a venerable art house cinema right off 5th Avenue facing the Plaza Hotel, can be an event. The 3:50 p.m. screening of “Call Me By Your Name” on Dec. 16 was, for reasons I’m delighted to share with INtown’s readers, an event.
For one thing, the Paris has reserved seats, just like a Broadway theatre. The sound and projection are always perfect—something that doesn’t always happen just anywhere. And the star of the film, a 21-year-old actor named Timothée Chalamet, was scheduled to do a Q&A session after the movie.
But the play’s the thing, of course. Director Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love,” “A Bigger Splash”) has created a work of art that has the nation’s top critics falling over one another: The New York Times, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair—the list goes on.
What are they gushing about? In one word, “Beauty!” (Remember actor Julian Sands coming upon a field of flowers (and Helena Bonham Carter) in 1985’s giddily romantic “A Room With a View” and ecstastically uttering that word?) “Call Me” brings that moment to mind.
Like André Aciman’s 2007 novel on which the film is based, 17-year-old Elio (Mr. Chalamet) lives with his American father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of Greco-Roman culture, and Italian mother (Amira Casar) in an villa in a beautiful little town in northern Italy. The professor requires an annual summer assistant, and this summer it is 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer). Elio is used to a “usurper” taking over his room for six weeks every summer; but as he’s a very gifted musician and quite a linguist (he speaks English, French, and Italian), he keeps busy.
And slowly, reluctantly (they both have casual girlfriends), but inexorably, Elio and Oliver fall in love.
You may say, “Oh, it’s a gay love story.” In my opinion that is so reductive a viewpoint that it’s sort like saying “Hamlet” is about a prince whose father is murdered, so the prince seeks revenge. Do you remember Lin-Manuel Miranda’s now famous words he emotionally uttered when his “Hamilton” won the Tony Award the night after the Orlando nightclub murders? He said all he knew was “love is love is love is love is love” in a short poem he wrote for the occasion.
Tennessee Willliams said, “A road can be straight, or a street, but the human heart is curved like a road through mountains.” Master essayist, novelist, and social critic Gore Vidal decried the human tendency to “label” everything to the end of his days. And yet we humans love to believe what we believe, despite all evidence and enlightened viewpoints to the contrary.
So I give up. All right, we’ll say “Call Me By Your Name” is a gay love story. But really, it’s just a human story of intimacy and mutual empathy found.
And you’ll get no more plot from me. Wait, you haven’t given any plot. That’s right; you must discover this film on your own.
The acting is exquisite; Mr. Chalamet (particularly) and Mr. Hammer are miracles of casting. The film is such a perfect storm of acting, direction, and photography that it seems to just exist.
Back to the Paris Cinema. After the film, which received an ovation from the audience, a moderator brought Timothée Chalomet onstage for discussion and audience questions. There were ushers to hand microphones to questioners.
I thanked Timothée for his courage and conviction (his talent is obvious and God-given) in playing this role. I said to him (and the audience) that I truly believed that this film would save lives. I used to be a high school teacher, and I know that teenagers are the highest risk group for suicide, gay teenagers particularly.
At the end of the session I somehow found myself standing right in front of him, and he graciously thanked me for my comments. I also asked a very nice young woman if she’d take a photo of the young actor and me. Fine actors always move me, and this one could win an Oscar for this role. He’ll be nominated; wait and see.
This was not an ordinary afternoon at the movies, as you can see. How good is “Call Me”? At the opening night of the New York Film Festival, it received a 10 minute standing ovation, the longest in the history of the festival. I know there’s a danger of building movies or shows up too much; but I just wanted you to know.
“Call Me By Your Name” is now playing in Atlanta (Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, AMC Phipps Plaza 14 and Lefont Sandy Springs); go and enjoy. And don’t even think about leaving during the closing credits; you’ll see why.