Sunday, January 28, 2018

Call Me By Your Name


No I don't think this is the sublime masterpiece everybody is calling it but I did like it quite a bit. I've read the novel (years ago) and its combination of yearning and exquisitely painful beauty and loss (specifically queer loss) always stuck with me.

Brandon Taylor, (@brandonlgtaylor on twitter, go follow him) writing for them., talks about the intrinsic connection between gay men and sadness:
There was always something so pure about the sadness of queer men, as if in the face of reduced conditions, they at least had their sadness, which seemed also to represent a clarity of understanding, emerging as it did from bigotry, from illness, from grief. It’s no wonder to me that so much of queer art is sad — we’ve always been composing in a key of loss, the key of longing, which inherently describes a situation of lack or removal.
(here) Call Me By Your Name, one of the novels mentioned in his essay, is one of the prime examples of this type of queer sadness. Set in 1983, the novel and the film are shy about the very much looming AIDS crisis (here) and a bit blase about the closet. One could naively argue that Call Me By Your Name is less about queer love and more about first love, but that would ignore the text's context, its position in the discourse of queer literature, in which loss and sadness are the primary feeling tones.

Male queerness is more often than not rooted in the absence, in the lack: for much of Western history, gay men were ostracized, scorned, vilified, and criminalized. Any act of love was radical. In many ways, gay love is still radical today, but the risk isn't quite as high. Thus, the hesitant touch, the furtive glance, the expression of love were often in the dark, always rooted in the melancholy for that which gay men could not have—open socially-approved love. Gay love operated on the assumption of loss and thus loss was always there in a relationship from the very beginning. Not just the lack of the stable relationship, but the lack of safety, lack of continuity, lack of monogamy. The absence beats at the heart of gay love, which provides depictions of this love an extra dimension of sadness, an exquisite pain of melancholy so alluring and delicious as to be unavoidable.

The best parts of Call Me By Your Name are the partings, when Elio and Oliver are separated, either by circumstances (the end of Oliver's time with the Perlman family) or by their inability/unwillingness to voice their mutual desire. Their time together is as inane and quotidian as any other first love, which is to say that it's unbearably happy for the couple and unintelligible for outside observers. Yet, the parting is what propels the film; it is there from the very moment Elio and Oliver meet; the parting looms over them, shadows their every step, the parting that is intrinsic to queer love. The loss that is queer love.

Which is why the end of their relationship is the best part of the film. It's what we've been waiting for. It's what we expect. Gay viewers of this film will know this pain from the very first moment and it's a comforting embrace to be faced with it again. It's a sadness that's been aestheticized for the queer gaze. We ache for the aching, we yearn for those that yearn but through the most beautiful lens possible, that of idyllic summers in Northern Italy, surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful locations and beautiful food. The beauty of the location is tied up with this queer sadness. This sad beauty allows gay audiences to sublimate their own melancholy into a palatable form. We yearn for the beautiful sadness and Call Me By Your Name gives up the goods excellently.

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