Should Call Me By Your Name Receive the Before Sunrise
Are Elio and Oliver going to become the new Jesse and Céline?
here are few other romantic movies that make my heart sing more than Richard Linklater’s walking-and-talking-dependent Before … series or Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age masterpiece Call Me By Your Name.
The former saga begins in 1994, where youthful optimism is plentiful and where anything is possible. It introduces us to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), star-crossed 20-
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somethings (Jesse’s an American traveling Europe, Céline’s a French university student) who meet on a train and then embark upon a spontaneous, 24-hour romance in Vienna before they have to return to their everyday lives.
In Call Me By Your Name, we are transported to northern Italy in 1983, where the sun blazes, the apricot trees are ripe, and the days are languid and carefree. Here, a sophisticated teen named Elio (Timothée Chalamet) has a brief but passionate summertime fling with Oliver (Armie Hammer), a grad student interning with Elio’s professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) for 10 weeks.
Both the Linklater work and the Guadagnino opus are masterworks of their genre in part to their numerous subversions.
The inaugural Before movie, Before Sunrise, marked a beginning: it was a preview to a romance we could sense might have a future down the line. That was followed by 2004’s Before Sunset, which depicted Jesse and Céline’s serendipitous reunion nearly a decade after their first meeting. Then came 2013’s Before Midnight, which found the lovers long-married and with children but questioning their devotion to one another.
By so audaciously doing away with the cinematic constraints of time, Linklater practically reinvented the romance genre. After decades of growing accustomed to getting to know a variety of fictional couples but getting just a single film to honor their affection for one another, the director made it possible to develop right along with these people. And maybe see a little bit of ourselves, and our own experiences, in the duo on display.
The Guadagnino film is so magnificent because it is so immersive, and so celebratory toward the spectacular now. Not only does it thoroughly submerge you in its sensuous world of youthful passion and verdant Italian scenery, but it also portrays ephemeral first love in an evocative fashion that only becomes more affecting with repeated viewings.
The Before … series sees the beauty in a long-term, warts-and-all relationship rarely seen in cinema; Call Me By Your Name emotionally cinematizes yearning in ways that are universal for anyone who’s experience fleeting love, or, at the very least, a crush. It’s so poignant because there’s an understanding that Elio and Oliver’s relationship is at once too short and perfectly long; we savor every minute they have together, and we luckily have the ability to keep revisiting these moments time and time again.
Critical acclaim has understandably become a standard in regards to both the Linklater and Guadagnino films. Few other romantic features are as ambrosial, or distinct, as they are. Yet while these movies initially appear to have few commonalities, they’ve started increasingly becoming mentioned alongside one another.
Call Me By Your Name is based upon the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman, but is not entirely faithful to the material by which it’s inspired by. The cinematic adaptation only covers the first part of the book; eventually, the novel goes on to illustrate Elio and Oliver’s relationship in the 15 years following their first meeting, and then five years after that.
Understandably, most fans of the movie have begun wondering if Call Me By Your Name is fated to become a sort of Before … series for a new generation. So far, Guadagnino, Chalamet, and Hammer have all expressed interest in making sequels.
Yet, I cannot decide just how much I want this singular work to emulate Linklater’s beloved series. While I certainly fell in love (as most have) with both Elio and Oliver and their short-term romance, part of what makes Call Me By Your Name so special has to do with how distinctly aware we are that what we’re seeing cannot last forever. We’re seeing a precious moment in time, and as such must relish everything witnessed.
Making further films could possibly decrease the impact of Call Me By Your Name. Its portrayal of first love is so powerful, why impair it with latter-day characterizations of a harsher reality? (Later chapters in the book are, after all, not as much part of the fantasia described before it.) Given Guadagnino’s track record, though, there’s a high chance that reintroductions to Elio and Oliver’s romance could nonetheless be riveting. I just hope the filmmaker is careful if he does decide to take the Linklater route.
- JANUARY 11, 2018
This piece also appeared in The Daily.