How ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Became a Modern Coming-of-Age Classic

 


The coming-of-age genre is one that isn’t exactly new, in fact it dates back to the 1950s with films like The Cool and the Crazy (1958) and Reform School Girl (1957), and of course the genre continued evolving in the decades that followed, reaching a peak in popular culture in the 70s (American Graffiti is one of the most iconic movies of the decade) and most notably the 80s, when John Hughes got a crack at it and pulled out one blockbuster after another, while others tried, and often did, match his original approach to the genre which would soon become formulaic: The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Ferris Buller’s Day Off are some of the most fun and memorable movies of the 1980’s.

What became formulaic would soon turn into cheesy and overdone, so the end of the 1980’s saw the genre shifting yet again into more serious tones; Heathers shifted it into the dark comedy sphere, while Dead Poets Society tried a more mature and serious approach. Coming-of-Age films never really faded out, and as the years rolled by, they matched the trends in popular culture to survive. The 2010’s again would deliver some of the best films the genre has to offer, the catalog really is too big to list down, but some of the highlights are Submarine (2010), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (2015), Moonlight (2016), and of course, the film in discussion today, Call Me By Your Name (2017).


Adapted from a novel by Andre Aciman, and directed by Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name takes place “somewhere in northern Italy”, and revolves around Elio, a precocious 17-year-old, who falls for Oliver, a guest at his parents, and together, they share a summer affair that despite its short length, goes through all the phases of a relationship. Before we dive into the story, it’d be a crime not to appreciate the film’s cinematography; shot on location, every frame is gorgeous and dripping of sensuality, the film feels like a picture book, and every scene is the memories related to that particular picture. The haziness of the location furthers this dreamlike effect, it is dislocated and lost in time and space, a component that is vital to the success of such a story.


What exactly do I mean by “such a story”? Call Me By Your Name belongs to a special category of romance films, one that includes films like Before Sunrise (1995), Carol (2015) or if you want something a bit older, maybe Bell, Book and Candle (1958); these are films where the romance that blossoms between the protagonists is helped by everything around them, from characters to the setting itself. This magical, fairy-tale like effect sadly only lasts for a short period of time, and only in the setting they inhabit in that period, and soon, the spell is uncast and the outside world comes crushing in. I gave the example of Before Sunrise, and I’ll expand on it: the protagonists of the film, from the moment they meet on the train till the moment they part on the platform, live in a world where seemingly everything and everyone is trying to help their romance; at one moment, she turns to him and says that they’re not even supposed to be there, and that maybe that’s why the whole thing feels so otherworldly, but all of that is over the moment they’re on the platform waiting for her train.

The same thing applies to Call Me By Your Name. From the moment Elio and Oliver decide to start their affair, even before that actually, everything is geared towards making their romance a successful one: supportive parents and friends, intimate situations and exclusive settings. This element plays an important part in the story, not only because it allows romance to happen, but because it gets rid of outside conflicts, and here, inner conflicts come into play. This keeps the story at high intensity for its majority, as it goes from highs to lows, before settling back into a beautifully sensual third act, but nonetheless, even at the peak of the romance, the impending sorrow creeps in, knowing that it is monumental and that Oliver is soon leaving; in a way, it is celebrating love and decrying it simultaneously.

Long gone are the days when coming-of-age films are a simple “popular girl neglects the jock and falls for the geek”, while in film, I’m more of a mid-century guy and usually opt for older stuff than newer releases, in the case of this genre, which happens to be one of my favorites, I couldn’t be more satisfied with the way it has evolved throughout the years, and Call Me By Your Name is one of its crowning achievements, a film that I have revisited countless times since its release four years ago, for reasons listed here, and others unlisted.

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