This Kind of Life Keeps Breaking Your Heart: Call Me By Your Name (Review)

First of all, This Kind of Life Keeps Breaking Your Heart is a very nice song from Hammock.

While it seems completely unrelated, I do think heartbreak is one of the most defining and common experience of the Human Condition – if you have never had your heart broken, perhaps you have never really lived but you certainly have never really loved.

Call Me By Your Name has been on my radar for the past 6-9 months for a range of reasons. Its subject matter of a queer romance makes it interesting from the get-go for me as my Masters thesis was focused on that. The fact that it’s set against the old towns and gentle hills of my beloved Italy also drew me closer to the film. Armie Hammer’s all-round undeniable gorgeousness also helped, and this amazing interview with the film’s director Luca Guadagnino (again, in Rolling Stone – as a disclaimer or open secret, I did spend a lot of pocket money and many hours in my teenage years purchasing and perusing Rolling Stone magazine) all made me want to watch the movie as soon as it lands in the theatres. 

I was so eager that I wrote to The Projector, an independent cinema with a delightful collection of movies, in December to ask them when they might bring it in, and they told me to expect it in January.

Alors, voilà – I saw the movie tonight and I was not disappointed. It didn’t make me bawl my eyes out, which was fine. As  a super digression, I love the fact that Luca has chosen to let the characters speak Italian, French and English seamlessly throughout the film. I’m like, YES, it’s got my dream family where all my languages flow around the house naturally and it’s exactly how I envision my future household will converse, with also the addition of Mandarin of course. 

But I digress. What the film did though was to articulate the tenderness and awkwardness when love and intimacy try to find a form. And the heartbreak that comes with this form finding. 

Desire is a fundamental driving force of everything that is life, and sometimes you don’t know what you desire until it finds you. The entire film was about building up the desire between Oliver and Elio, bringing it from a flicker, to a simmering flame and finally a full on burning passion for love and life. 

Rather than see the film simply as a gay film where, yes, two men have sex, the scenes where their bodies interact are really about the discovery, exploration, and the experimentation of sexuality. The confusion that Elio feels is manifested in the thumping and erratic soundtrack in the scene where he scribbles notes asking Oliver not to ignore him. The alienation is again mirrored in the scene at the dining table where a couple fights animatedly and passionately about politics and film in Italian, while Elio sits uncomfortably until his nose bleeds and he has to retreat. 

We are all Elio when our heart wants what it wants. 

But one of the biggest lessons we will have to learn in life is that we have to learn to be with our sorrow as much as we sit with our joy. Honour our sadness as much as we celebrate our happiness. Each experience and feeling is real and as real as you want it to be, and each makes us more of who we are.

If we were to continue on the rumination on heartbreaks, it never seemed as if Oliver took it as hard as Elio did, but he did in a very repressed way. Oliver speaks his truth by embracing their friendship, as Elio’s father puts it, a love which is always already doomed by virtue of temporal and spatial limitations. His vulnerability never showed up, except when Elio sits with his back to him. For Oliver, there is rarely a sense that his masculinity was threatened by his acceptance of Elio’s feelings and initiation of coupling. He, after all, is embodied by the inimitable Armie Hammer, who is 6’5″, so fit and so beautiful, and who could get away with flirting and kissing with Chiara but also loving Elio, and then getting married the next spring. So the sense of regret will always be there, but it is Elio we see enduring the aftermath of the dissolution and disappointment.

The last scene will linger in my mind for a very, very long time. How many of us have experienced the emptiness that swallows you after a wonderful affair with no future? The feeling of wanting to cry but desperately trying not to cry. The feeling of wanting to disappear from the surface of the earth but your mother calls you and you, yes, you have to go deal with mundane but apparently important things like Hanukkah or Chinese New Year.

Above all, Timothée Chalamet is a true standout of the film, and like all the film reviews have unanimously agreed, he is the Next Big Thing to watch. 

Oh, and the soundtrack – Sufjan Stevens deserves every ounce of love I can give. 


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