“Cinema is a mirror of reality and it’s a filter.”
It is one of those blink and you’ll miss it moments, but this passing comment in the film’s dialogue captures the simple beauty of Call Me By Your Name. This American-Italian film plants its roots somewhere in Italy during the hot, endless summer of 1983. It evokes nostalgia for the days of our adolescence that were spent free from responsibility and commitment. Whatever the struggles were that occupied our minds back then, we now look back on as valuable experiences that helped us grow into the people we became.
Timothée Chalamet’s portrayal of Elio strikes a unique balance of a teenager whose background makes him so unique, and yet one who is so utterly relatable. Throughout the film he wades in the confusing waters of sexuality, religion, and culture, attempting to determine how these facets of his identity form a whole.
When American college graduate, Oliver, enters his life, Elio is at first reluctant to let go of what is familiar to him. But his interest is piqued, and after giving into the temptation of the forbidden fruit (a peach?) his world is rocked. Oliver becomes more than a sexual partner for Elio. Oliver becomes a role model, contributing his own part to the formation of Elio’s dynamic identity.
Call Me By Your Name is merely a snapshot of Elio’s life. By no means is he a fully grown man with a strong sense of self by the end of the film, but the closest we get to seeing the man he might be comes in the form of his father. After Oliver’s departure, Mr Perlman urges Elio to find pleasure in his grief, and to appreciate the special bond he shared with Oliver. He reveals with an echo of nostalgia that he too had formed a similar relationship with a friend in his youth, hinting that while Elio may also move on, this summer will always be remembered fondly as a defining moment in his life.
So when it is alluded to that the movie we are watching is a mirror of reality, Call Me By Your Name is telling us that this story of a teenager exploring their identity is a common adolescent experience. When this is followed up with telling us that cinema is also a filter of reality, the film recognises that two hours is not nearly enough time to capture the complexity of one individual’s full personal growth. Bits are cut, and a filmmaker’s personal bias often lies in the way of objectivity.
Call Me By Your Name captures the idyllic, lazy summer of one man’s life in 1983, but it also accepts its inability to capture his growth throughout his entire life. These limitations don’t really matter in the end though. Sometimes all it takes is a snapshot of someone else’s life to see a bit of ourselves in it.