‘Movies or books’ may be the most contended question, second only to the ‘chicken or egg’ dilemma. Among the numerous film adaptations of books, Luca Guadgnino’s Call Me By Your Name based on Andre Aciman’s novel of the same name is an interesting case. The book and the film approach the same story differently.The novel is strikingly descriptive. It is a dissection of desire, passion and love. Every feeling, every thought of Elio (one of the two principal characters) is described so vividly that in place of a sneak peek what we get is a plunge into his mind. The movie, instead of a voice-over narration, chooses to tell the story visually with minimal dialogues, leaving it to us to figure out what the characters think. In the movie, during a game of volleyball when Oliver (the other main lead) touches Elio’s shoulder he slithers away from his grasp. It doesn’t stop to explain the ‘why’ behind Elio’s actions. The book painstakingly describes what Elio goes through at the moment. In effect, the book and the movie complement each other.
The minimal dialogues in the movie come as a surprise, not least because it is a literary adaptation. This never holds the movie back but rather makes it wholesome and closer to life. In the scene where Elio gets a nosebleed, his parents don’t even budge from their seats. Only Oliver seems to be worried. Mafalda, the house-help doesn’t even bother to get the boy some ice. This casual way in which they react to this tells us that nosebleed is something that happens to Elio often. Oliver, seeing this for the first time, is worried obviously. No dialogue could have made this clearer. Towards the end of the film when Oliver calls Elio to give the news of his marriage, he talks to Elio’s parents too. They seem to be genuinely happy for him. Just as they hang up the phone the husband and the wife exchange a glance which is part happy, part sad, part regret and part acceptance; they wanted Elio and Oliver to be together, they feel bad for Elio but they are happy for Oliver. After all, why choose to tell when you can show?
Nobody would be surprised if Elio’s parents co-author ‘Parenting 101’. In two very definitive scenes of the film, they embody Gibran’s philosophy of parenting maybe better than Gibran himself. The first one happens on a rainy day. Elio is lying on his parents’ lap and his mother is reading them a German story about a knight who struggles to profess his love. She is translating it to them as she reads it. “Is it better to speak or to die,” asks the knight. It is highly unlikely that it is through mere coincidence that she chose to read this very story when her son is going through a somewhat similar situation. Elio doubts whether he will ever have the courage to ask such a question. His father reassures him and tells, “You know you can talk to us about anything”. Who doesn’t like to hear that? The second scene is the much talked about the monologue of his father. The scene which is under ten minutes gives us a deep dive into his mind- his take on love, life and relationships. That pain is essential to life and as important as joy is something we seldom accept. Elio’s father puts it in a way that we can’t turn away from. Whatever the feeling may be, trying to get rid of it quickly sucks the sap out of us, making us mere shadows of the persons we once were. The myriad experiences are both the means and end of life. Elio’s father has so wonderfully understood the nuances of whatever was therebetween Elio and Oliver. He confides in his son that he too has come close to such a relationship but never took the plunge. Here, the father becomes an individual, a friend, someone who understands.
Call Me By Your Name is a romantic’s paradise – a meditation on the emotions which drain our soul and weaken our body. Every watch yields something new; maybe a new thought or a renewed understanding. But every time it makes one thing clear – what is life if not a tumult of emotions?
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.