‘Call Me By Your Name’ Resurrects the of Intimacy of Touch

by Simon Williams on January 18, 2018

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Up]

Do you ever get the impression that we Americans don’t totally understand the sense of touch?

I’ve been in the conversation many a time (chiefly with Latin American friends of mine) about how we’re stuck up about touch. We keep our hands to ourselves, we’re taught to not touch our face or to fidget, and when touch occurs it’s always loaded. This continues into our films. Handshakes, high fives and the occasional kiss between lovers. Sex scenes are over-the-shoulder, hazy and always distant. The touch of an arm is always impersonal or awkwardly romantic.

Seriously imagine the last hug you saw on screen. Where was the camera? What did you see? The focus is on the face, and the hug itself is almost purely about the idea of the embrace.

Then a film like Call Me By Your Name enters your life, and you see a very different kind of hug. The embrace is tactile. The focus is on the lingering of the fingers as they rub into the fabric of one another’s shirts. It’s about how one’s nose is bent in the crook of another’s shoulder. It’s about the slow, gentle movement of their bodies as they breathe.

Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino and based on a novel by Andre Aciman, is a film all about touch. No American film ever made has ever worked so hard to show the many forms of tiny, sensuous exchanges between people. The loving pat on the head of a parent; the clumsy lunges of first sex; the gentle tickling of the inner neck between flirting indidviduals. Every time people make contact throughout the film, it feels intimate, delicate, specific and revelatory. As you follow Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer as two young men slowly falling in love you end up thinking far less about the work as a step in LGBTQ cinema and far more about the simple, dumb reality of their bodies within their world interacting and touching.

And the movie is good too.

In a normal review this would be where I describe the plot but anyone who reads me should realize at this point that I have a deep-seeded prejudice against that form of film writing. The critic who merely describes the plot in detail is not a critic, merely a transcriber and advertiser. Luckily for me this film seems just as disinterested in that as I. It’s not that there is no plot, quite the contrary. It’s a poignant, thoughtful narrative film with many various twists and builds. Rather the plot is not at all the POINT of the film. The chief relationships are there from square one and the plot is there to reveal them rather than change them. These people have a general idea of how they feel about one another very early and the film, and instead of playing out as a budding romance the film feels more like a stew waiting to boil over.

This may be a good thing, for my enjoyment specifically. The film’s chief characters all suffer from a kind of Cosmopolitan, excruciating hipness that always gets under my skin. Talking Heads shirts abound, and everyone has read a great deal of philosophy. There is even a scene where Hammer joyously dances to a Psychedelic Furs song with a woman he just met. This comes with a great deal of hypocrisy on my part (myself being a Talking Heads-listening, Nietzsche-spouting hipster) but this kind of extreme cool has always bothered me. However, the film is not using these stylish details as our avenue into the characters, but merely as a way of adorning them. We aren’t meant to sympathize with these characters because of their great taste and progressive ideas. We become entranced instead by their real, physical, potent interactions with each other and their world.

Other critics will praise the script (perhaps the last ever by English staple James Ivory who essentially invented the modern British period piece). Others will talk about what this film means for gay cinema entering the mainstream (the comparisons to last year’s Moonlight abound, despite them being very different films about fundamentally different things). I, however, wanted nothing more than to talk about this: I have never before seen a film so entranced by the dripping water of drying swim trunks or the meanings of lingering fingers on one’s lips. Call Me By Your Name is a magnificent, magical bit of hypnosis and you should see it.

Simon Williams

Simon Williams is a media critic and filmmaker originally from Columbus Ohio. He makes short films about sad people who don’t speak their minds because he himself is a sad person who does not have that issue.

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