The impeachment of Elio: Fruits and echoes in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name
By Dag Sødtholt, Jan 6, 2019 38 min read
Luca Guadagnino‘s 2017 film Call Me by Your Name may look like a simple film, but under its languorous surface of summer there are rich layers of structural smartness, creating echoes that reverberate throughout the film.
This article will warm up with some of the film’s smaller – and to this author favourite – moments, which have helped make Call Me by Your Name a durable, highly revisitable viewing experience. This is followed by a brief discussion of the film’s judicious and precision-work use of some common formal devices: close-ups, track-in camera movements and dissolves. Then it will examine the pervasive use of fruit as a metaphor of sexual desire, before looking at a large number of other motifs, staging ideas, echoes and other structural properties that enrich this well-thought-out film. There are also two enclosures listing the film’s many long takes and its music.
This is the third and final article about Call Me by Your Name on Montages. The first article examined its final scenes, drawing lines to earlier parts of the story to map out its path towards closure, of not only its characters but the film itself. There was also a summary of the film’s extensive historical-cultural backdrop. The second article explored the piazza scene and the hotel room scene, before delving into the motif of window and other high-vantage views.
The following analysis is revolving around an extensive use of screen shots. The article presupposes that the reader is familiar with the film. (A plot description can be found here.)
Favourite moments and particular qualities
This author went from a rather measured response to Call Me by Your Name to an enthusiastic embrace, for many reasons, including its extraordinarily delicate and soulful soundtrack. But a considerable part was played by the many smaller moments that proved to be durable delights on each and every viewing.
This peculiarly composed, striking shot is perhaps my favourite in the entire film.
I love how Marzia is entering this scene, her whole demeanour and the way her hair is falling…
…what is following is even more lovely, as after his nosebleed Elio is thoroughly pampered by the girls.
I love how the shadowy light is falling on Oliver’s face here.
Oliver refreshing himself with the waters of the cool pond…
…performed and shot with great sensuousness…
Oliver looking back in a moment of profound happiness.
Then there are the exquisite silly moments, like this endearingly childish TV show with its sublimely carefree, shamelessly catchy song.
Here is someone who has taken on the “speak or die” conundrum and resolutely fallen down on the first option. It is a political discussion, Bettino Craxi is a hot topic, politics are also bubbling to the surface in other situations, there are political posters in town – it seems there is an upcoming election in Italy.
Another enduring moment, giving the handyman Anchise a moment of agency, with a benign but quietly incredulous look at the behaviour of the lady and her equally voluble husband, representatives of the chattering classes.
Elio becoming like a child again face to face with the fish.
This is a film that dares to stop and smell the roses. A great thing about Call Me by Your Name is the detailed feeling of a lived-in world. For example, when Elio looks for ice to take care of his nosebleed, not only does he go for the wrong fridge, but he leaves its door open – and Mafalda the housekeeper comes over and closes it after him. In its brilliantly scrupulous everydayness this moment delights every time. Another situation in this vein is when Oliver approaches Mafalda from behind to tell her he will not stay for dinner, and she seems genuinely startled by the voice of this unexpected presence. These may be things that just happened by accident during the shoot, but the naturalness of it is utterly disarming.
Some other very small touches – literally! Both Oliver and Elio seem awfully interested in their groin area. During their first conversation at the piazza, suddenly Oliver discovers his fly is open and discretely closes it. Was this just an accident or a tiny piece of mise-en-scène? Anyway, one does not see this often in films. We will return to this later.
A nice touch: Oliver looks up, and the next scene starts with the camera gazing up at the moon…
…which leads to one of the film’s most soulful passages, with Elio waiting and yearning for Oliver, accompanied by Sufjan Stevens’s “Futile Devices“.
A similar passage of loneliness and yearning: The house is empty and Elio playing Ravel’s Miroir III – Une Barque sur l’océan dreamily accompanies three images of that emptiness.
This is another example of the film’s lived-in quality, as it takes the time to stay with the local ladies baking in the kitchen for a moment. Here is also a very small but nice detail in the editing. This is just after Elio has disappeared into the loft to have a go at the peach scene. Annella is eating but the shot ends with her looking away, as if she is looking at Elio in the next scene, who is eating too.
By the way, if you want to have fun, you could sift through the fascinating title images. Starting out, there are mostly photographs of statues, but increasingly lots of objects are seen, most of which can be traced to actual props in the film. (Many statues depicted in the photos do also appear in the film.) Here we rediscover Oliver’s manuscript, with the tell-tale green band, on the shore of Lake Garda.
The two objects in the right bottom corner can be found on the windshield, and seem to have to do with car insurance.
Here there is a curious rainbow-like glow over the rightmost part of the image.
Close-ups, track-ins and dissolves
There are many reasons for the power of the film’s concluding shot of Elio before the fireplace. One of the more subtle is the virtual absence of such tight close-ups earlier in the film. Guadagnino’s poetics in Call Me by Your Name is observational, leaning towards framings of collections of interacting characters where often the backdrop of landscape or architecture is very important, frequently captured in long takes that, when not entirely in long shot, may start or taper off with the characters at a distance. This is a style that does not lend itself to close-ups. In fact, the sheer opposite is much more typical, as the following extensive (chronological) slide show indicates:
There are some less tight close-ups where the face is not that dominating, but these too are few and far between. The above, plus a couple discussed further down, are the only ones.
There are of course situations where a character happens to pass the camera close by but it is not reasonable to consider those as close-ups. This big one of Elio, however, an early shot while Oliver is asleep after having just arrived, is a borderline situation. But it is the end point of a camera sweep, up from the musical score he is transcribing and is not lingered upon.
So this is the first proper, tight close-up, not until about 28 minutes into the film. In this turning point, Guadagnino’s discipline is richly rewarded: what better way to instil into the viewer’s subconscious Elio’s own poorly-understood longing for Oliver, than breaking with an established pattern, yet completely unobtrusively? Here the moment is added extra emphasis by him leaning into the shot, as he gazes inscrutably at the dancing Oliver. The moment further stands out by being the first time he is smoking in the film.
As if a metaphor of his desire, the lights are forming a nice arc over him, making the situation even more special.
There is of course this iconic after-sex shot of the lovers.
Notably, Oliver is receiving at least as much close-up attention as Elio. This is his debut, at about the 45-minute mark, explosive in its suddenness. Here they are discussing the Heptaméron “speak or die” story and it is clear that his determination to keep his distance to Elio is waning. This is part of a protracted turning point that also includes the central piazza scene.
His remaining two close-ups connect two related scenes: Oliver looking at the empty bed wondering if their love-making was just a passing fancy to Elio, and later in the hotel room, looking at the bed with Elio in it, realising that the relationship is doomed. (More about this in the second article, here.)
Less tight, but satisfyingly intimate use of close-ups in the moving reconciliation scene with Marzia. By the way, this traditional use of shot-reverse shot is also seldom seen in the film…
…but here it is eminently justifiable since the scene will end in these contrasting, unifying moments.
For the sake of completeness, here are the last tight/half-tight close-ups, in a long-take scene, which starts with Elio being transfixed by the sight of an all-important message from Oliver.
One of the most common devices in cinema is the camera slowly creeping closer to a situation, creating a subconsciously intensifying feeling in the viewer. This too is almost wholly absent in Call Me by Your Name, until its late stages. It is introduced during the post-peach-scene conversation between Elio and Oliver, lamenting that they had lost so much time before becoming lovers. Possibly the device has to do with time running out and finality? It is only the opening shot of Dr. Perlman’s monologue scene that breaks this pattern, although Oliver having gone is definitely a concern there too.
The following slide show displays the five occurrences (the Oliver embrace scene entails a faster-paced closing in at the very start of the hug but the effect is related and thus included):
Dissolves are an efficient way of marking the passage of time, but like in so many films it has an added aesthetic dimension in Call Me by Your Name. There is also a special thrill to experience a device that in its full flow cannot be found in any other art form than cinema.
This is a slide show of the film’s dissolves, some of which we will return to later (the starting point of the winter landscape dissolve is a bit hard to make out, see the first article, here, for a better view):
We will return to some of the dissolves further down. (The two late ones involving Elio and his father are discussed in the first article, here.)
There are two more dissolves, however, very sophisticated and both to do with the waterfall during the heroes’ nature hike. The last one is remarkable and makes it look like they are disappearing into the waterfall, merging with the planet itself during one the lovers’ happiest moments. You can read about these dissolves in this enclosure – the discussion is very technical and moved into a separate space to avoid breaking the flow of the article.
As a bonus the device often generates specific meaning in this film, because the dissolve’s transformation of one state into another before our eyes in an almost otherworldly fashion is a perfect metaphor of Elio’s not-fully-grasped, nebulous attraction towards Oliver. Consider the below montage delineating two situations that echo each other:
In the left column, still irritated by Oliver’s dominant behaviour at the volleyball field, Elio is tossing and turning on his bed, and through a fast dissolve we are directed to look at a fruit tree. In the right column, a later situation of similar restless dissatisfaction for Elio, who has been waiting around in an empty house, full of yearning. After Elio has played around with Oliver’s trunks, the latters appears below, as if conjured up by Elio’s activities, and we again dissolve to the fruit tree.
In the left-column situation there is an immediate cut to Oliver arriving, from a similar high vantage point to where Elio observed him in the right-column scene.
It is not only dissolves and Elio’s similar mental state that join these situations. For one thing, Oliver is arriving at the house in both of them (although in the right column he is walking away into the garden rather than coming inside). Even more important, perhaps, the scenes are fused through two recurring motifs: views from a high vantage point (often from windows, fully explored in the first article here), and the use of fruit as a symbol for sexual desire. In the left column, it is much more stimulating and artful to use the fruit tree as a go-between instead of dissolving directly to Oliver, and this roundabout route also gives the spectator a taste of Elio’s convoluted, ill-understood yearnings.
The operation and reverberation of all these important elements in unison – dissolves, high-angle views, sexual desire both physically and mentally through Elio and symbolically via the fruit trees – might account for the almost mystical fascination that especially the above balcony situation exerts on the viewer. That feeling is also greatly enhanced by the majestic return of John Adams’s Hallelujah Junction that graced the opening titles, heralding a new start in the relationship between Elio and Oliver. (The background for the scene is discussed here.)
One more thing: the dissolve does not just go to a random tree – both times the ladder leans against the same one. (The closest tree in the top image is hidden in the bottom shot, which is from another angle.) Also, there are two trees of this type, one for each of the lovers.
Here are the two situations again as a slide show to better appreciate the flow of the dissolves (the show can be restarted from the beginning at any time by clicking on the image to enlarge it, and then return to the article).
Let us follow the film’s symbolic use of fruit, which is both more pervasive and definitely more precisely utilised than it might seem to the naked eye. During Oliver’s first breakfast with the family, the various fruits of the orchard are listed: peaches, cherries, apricots, pomegranates – each also in Italian.
After an initial long (56-second) take, as soon as Oliver mentions the orchard, there is a sudden cut to Elio eating an apricot.
The family perform an annual ritual of testing their resident guest in etymology. Professor Perlman will say something entirely wrong about the origin of the word “apricot” to see if the guest reacts. Having none of that, Oliver passes with “flying colours”, rattling off a brilliant analysis, showing off the self-satisfied, show-off side of his personality. (“Well, here, the Greek actually takes over from the Latin. Latin word being praecoquum or precoquere. So it’s, “precook” or “pre-ripen,” as you know. To be precocious or premature. [With these words, Oliver gives Elio a thematically meaningful look.] And the Byzantines, to go on, then borrowed praecox, which became prekokkia, which then became berikokki, which is how the Arabs got al-barquq. That’s courtesy of Philology 101.”)
Guadagnino employs a tray of apricot juice – obviously brought in by Annella to kick off the test – as a visual anchor for almost the entire scene. But since fruits of the juicy kind are a recurring motif in the film, and closely connected to Elio, it is interesting to note a side effect of this persistent presence of the juice, and also how actions and framings illuminate character traits.
Here Elio is contrived to be in the crosshairs, from both sides as if to rub it in, of Oliver’s reception of the glass…
…and this is like some kind of dance: while Elio is reaching for his glass, Annella touches him on the shoulder, like Oliver touched him in the previous scene, and several other times, and then we see Oliver drink as Elio is being touched – it is evidently important to Guadagnino to make these visual connections…
…Oliver drains the glass rapidly, another example of his impulsive, gluttonous nature, while Elio drinks in a measured way, observing. (The scene even keeps lingering on a moment when their glasses are exactly opposite each other.)
In many of the shots of Oliver and Dr. Perlman, Guadagnino makes sure the juice is visible…
…likewise for the frontal shots of Elio, all ten of them always from this position. They paint him as a calm observer – and their repeated, rigorous use strengthens this – lurking deep inside the landscape of the room…
…so it is only fitting that the scene’s opening shot shows him discretely in a mirror. Moreover, he only says one word, “merci” (for the juice), although he is allowed to deliver the scene’s punchline: “He does this every year.”
During the volleyball match, he fetches an apricot together with the water – and throws it up in the air as if in emphasis. As he is about to give the water to another spectator, Oliver virtually tears the bottle out of Elio’s hands, and gulps down yet another fluid. An increasingly irritated Elio, already jealous of all the admiring attention Oliver gets from the girls, bends away from Oliver’s touch, but even Marzia is teasing him at the end, repeating Oliver’s advice: “you should relax more.” The fruit and the fluid are connected to touching and (later) sex, and both of Elio’s potential sex partners are involved. (The shoulder touch will return later: the morning after sex, Elio slips away from a similar touch, making Oliver worry that Elio now will reject him.)
Soon after the first fruit tree dissolve, Elio’s sullen behaviour is driving Oliver off to help Annella picking fruit (it is a peach tree even though Oliver talks about “more apricot juice”)…
… but Elio comes over and shoves Oliver aside, joining the activity.
In the scene just before this Elio was toying with Oliver, showing off his virtuoso grasp of music, but here Oliver displays vulnerability and doubts about his manuscript. They move a bit closer to each other emotionally – Oliver seeking advice about the manuscript, Elio encouraging him (however weakly). The scene starts with Elio sitting by the same fruit tree…
…and after he has passed it, the camera keeps on lingering on it (for three seconds). At this exact point, Oliver mentions “early Greeks”, evoking homosexuality, via that society’s more tolerant view on this. Later, after the heroes’ declaration of truce at Lake Garda, there comes the second fruit tree dissolve, which directly precedes a turning point.
After Elio and Oliver have cleared the air between them in the city scene, being for the first time, perhaps, fully open and truthful with each other, Oliver says “I would kiss you if I could,” followed by an abrupt cut to the same tree…
…here the camera yet again lingers on the tree for the same period of time, until a hand enters the frame, picking a peach. The iconising organisation of the shot lends it extra importance. (One almost thinks of the Garden of Eden and the forbidden fruit, although contrary to the bible, this film attaches absolutely no feelings of sin and guilt).
This leads to the famous scene of Elio masturbating with the peach, captured in a 115-second take, with marvellously naturalistic acting by Chalamet. The light is falling magically on him throughout the scene (and the light is even more evocative when Oliver joins him later in this loft, having probably made a date to meet Elio in this secluded spot).
Here several things coalesce: the flowing juice of the peach down on his hand as he pierces it, the juice on his chest through the whole session (invoking sweat or semen, and foreshadowing his orgasm), and the semen slowly leaking from the peach after being set aside, replacing its juice. Later, Oliver will taste the semen from that peach, fusing fruit and sex, after having gone down on Elio and noticing the peach taste. Furthermore, throughout the film Elio has a problem with premature ejaculations – with Marzia and during this masturbation session – which is amusing, as we recall the word praecox having come up in Oliver’s etymology lesson, linked directly to apricots, thus indirectly to peaches, then again (very directly!) used for sex.
From the sequence of events, it also seems that it is eating the peach that gives him the idea of using it for masturbation. Just before taking a bite, his whimpering and shifting of his body indicate that he is already sexually aroused.
Eggs are a related link in this symbolic saga, the colour and flow of the deflowered plum echoing the juicy insides of fruits. During his first breakfast, Oliver clumsily ruins his egg – violating it – by hacking it too hard and gets a replacement from Mafalda. “That happens to the best of us,” Dr. Perlman jokes, tying the egg directly to unsuccessful sex. After Oliver has wolfed down the new one, he declines Annella’s offer of another: “No, no, no. I know myself too well. If I have a second, I’m just gonna have a third, and then a fourth, and then you’re just gonna have to roll me out of here.” This directly relates to Oliver’s rejection of Elio’s advances by the cool pond: “I know myself. Okay? And we’ve been good. We haven’t done anything to be ashamed of, and that’s a good thing. I wanna be good.” If he lets things go beyond those gentle kisses, he will not be able to stop himself, so he knows he must fight his gluttony.
Here is the second breakfast situation, after the disco dance scene and Elio’s nightly swim with Marzia: Oliver is hacking at the egg, there is a brutal jump cut, as if it is the cut itself that breaks the plum, which is overflowing, alluding to premature ejaculations. The first line afterwards is Elio’s “We almost had sex last night – Marzia and me.”
During the film’s third and last breakfast, after the heroes’ night of lovemaking, Oliver’s empty egg seems meaningful: here he really wants to continue the relationship even though it is still unclear whether Elio is willing, but the consumed egg, and only one, at the same time recalls his original intentions of keeping away from Elio.
While speaking of flowing fluids, Elio’s nosebleed during the dinner with the talkative Italian couple might also be interesting.
The following montage posed this author some problems: after Oliver has arrived at the house following the first fruit tree dissolve, he storms into Elio’s room to invite him to go swimming. For many viewings, the assumption was that when we see Elio transcribing music just afterwards, this is immediately after the bedroom scene, because their tone, Oliver dominating and Elio sullen, is the same and it is also logical that we shall see the outcome of their “date”.
But the meaning of the three intervening shots of various trunks hanging to dry in the bathroom was unclear. Since they are hanging from the same faucet, however, this must mean these shots are from different points in time. In a Facebook thread of mine on the film, Alex Heeney, author of several articles in this eBook about Call Me by Your Name, suggested that the montage is “supposed to mark the passage of time (several days) but still give you the feeling that no time has passed. The films plays a lot of tricks with time in the way it’s edited” – sometimes stretching and at other times compressing it. The varying colours of the trunks seems to be a nod to the source novel, where Elio can predict Oliver’s mood of the day from their colour.
Anyway, unless a continuity error – there are very few, the possibly “worst” is that it has grown noticeably much darker when they go for a swim at Lake Garda after they decided to do so just before – it cannot be just afterwards, because Elio’s trunks are different from those he put on.
On the way to the initial swim, he happens to see Oliver in a state of undress, and Elio’s own nudity primes both him and the viewers to see Oliver in a sexualised way. The fact that both of them are framed in the visual composition reinforces the feeling. In fact, it seems significant that it is the very same trunks that Elios is playing with later, in a semi-sexualised manner. (This is just before the second dissolve situation occurs, so these two clothing scenes are bookended by related dissolves and periods of dissatisfaction and restlessness on the part of Elio).
There is further sexual tension: when Oliver stormed in he aborted Elio’s budding masturbation session, and when the domineering Oliver wants him to go, Elio resists getting up, probably anxious that he is visibly sexually aroused. Here it is interesting that at the same time Oliver’s crotch is visually dominating the image. (“Right now,” Elio asks, flustered, a phrase later repeated before they go to town, for the central piazza scene. Elio is positively eager to go then.)
Note that the trunks are hanging by the bed, so not part of the clean clothes Mafalda just arrived with, thus having preserved Oliver’s natural smell. They are hanging, like those in the bathroom, and the red trunks are the first of those. David Greven, an American film scholar, suggested on the same Facebook thread that the bathroom shots “convey the continuing and growing fetishistic fascination Elio has with Oliver, still from afar,” which connects nicely to Elio’s current behaviour with the trunks. During this seance, Elio has some of the half-vacant, solely-driven-by-instinct look as in the disco scene close-up, driving him now to smell Oliver’s trunks and immerse himself in them, and indirectly Oliver’s crotch.
It is probably not a coincidence that these very same trunks are placed on the bed, visually linked to Oliver’s frantic undressing, as the camera is gliding on its way towards the window.
In the morning, another fetishised object, the shirt Oliver wore when he arrived in Italy and later will be gifted to Elio, is used by both lovers to dry themselves off.
This is followed by the, in this film, inevitable dissolve, into the pond, as if calling out for them to go swimming later. The fluids on the shirt connect to the body of water.
Later in the film, after their warm nocturnal conversation, there is a dissolve to the half-empty bed. Here Elio will comfort himself with the indirect touch of Oliver’s shirt, which Oliver actually wore during the conversation. The empty bed also foreshadows Oliver’s imminent departure, and Elio being left with merely the gifted shirt. The scene also recalls Oliver’s gaze, full of doubt, at the empty bed in this situation. All reservations about the relationship have gone here, however, although the signs of emptiness are a premonition of the unhappy ending.
Although the city in which the below piazza scene takes place is explicitly given as Crema (in fact the director’s home town), the film is notoriously vague – the early text “somewhere in Northern Italy” is in this way emblematic – about stating the location of most of the other urban situations. The resonance and comparative potential of certain situations will increase, however, if we take the effort of familiarising ourselves with the geography.
Two city scenes speak volumes about Elio and Oliver’s relationship: during their first private conversation they sit in the open, relaxed. But much later, when Elio has caught up with Oliver, unable to be away from him, they are physically marginalised, as if the nature of the relationship forces them to hide, staying close to a wall, even pressured into a hollowed-out space in it.
What is not readily apparent, however, is that those two scenes in fact take place in the exact same location, and in the second scene they stand somewhere in the archway behind Oliver’s head. (The entire structure in the background is the Town Hall on Piazza Duomo.) Furthermore, the date scene between Elio and Marzia too is shot here. The squat object to the left of Marzia (and to the left of Elio as he comes biking) is the same as the one diagonally behind Oliver’s beer, and the big building further away from her (a church?) is the one behind Elio’s head.
While almost torn asunder with longing, Oliver can just say “I would kiss you if I could” – no such restrictions are attached to a heterosexual couple.
(slide show) Esther Garrel is very sweet and shy in this scene. It is also one of the most aesthetically pleasing in the film, with the lovely camera movement half-circling her and back again, somehow conveying her excitement and nervous expectations for the date. (The first image of the show is marked with red borders. The show can be restarted from the beginning at any time by clicking on the image to enlarge it, and then return to the article.)
A subtle idea, neatly visualising the forces working upon Oliver: On one side, Elio with whom he lightly holds hands with for the briefest of moments, on the other side, his regular life in the US, represented by the letter, pressuring him to conform and reject a life with Elio.
Afterwards Elio smells his hand, which is reminiscent of him smelling the message from Oliver, confirmation of the longed-for rendezvous.
Elio is also stroking his finger in a downward movement across his lips, recalling the situation by the cool pond when he licked Oliver’s lips, before kissing him in earnest.
Hurrying to meet Oliver, Elio bikes past the real Cinema Vittoria, which is showing Tootsie, whose gender-bending subject matter fits the theme of this film. There are also two other posters, but it is hard to make out which films they advertise.
Speaking of locations: in addition to the Perlmans’ small stone swimming pool, there are three bodies of water. There is Elio’s “secret place“, the cool pond; a river that seems to be a popular swimming place (we see it once, when Elio ventures out after his nosebleed, and Oliver mentions it as a place where the other youths are, before suggesting they go swimming together); and a larger pond. The latter can offer more comparative value, because both Elio/Marzia and Elio/Oliver seem to visit it: when Elio/Marzia are there after the disco scene, they swim close together. When Elio/Oliver go there the morning after their lovemaking, as Elio has grown distant, they swim far away from each other, even not in the same shot (the camera has to pan to capture Oliver).
Even though dark in the earlier scene, it really appears to be the same place. This seems to be the same tree, judging from the horizontal branch and the thin one hanging down. (The top shot has been artificially brightened.)
The Perlmans are “Jews of discretion” but already at the first breakfast, Oliver’s Star of David piques Elio’s interest. After the foot massage scene, Elio takes to using one, often having it in his mouth. (This fits a pattern another Facebook friend, Larry Frascella, has pointed out to me: the film’s many oral activities, including the smoking of each other’s cigarettes. In fact, that happens an awful lot! Also, for example, see how Elio bites Oliver’s shoulder during foreplay.) It is notable that Elio’s gay exploration coincides with him “coming out” as Jewish, fittingly enough at a public place, and as a mark of the specialness of the occasion, we have never seen him in that particular swimming spot before.
During one of Elio’s periods of pining for Oliver when the latter is away, Annella tries to convince him that Oliver really likes him and also notices the star. When she moments later presses it against his chest, it is as if she is touching Oliver at the same time, and giving them her blessing. This is another lovely scene, with a perfectly modulated, delicate performance by Amira Casar.
The knowing Annella
From subtle but definite hints, it seems that Annella is very aware of what is going on. During the breakfast after the lovemaking, she sends Elio a look (while Oliver manages to look slightly embarrassed!), and another one after Oliver has left, given added emphasis because that look ends the scene. Earlier, when Oliver went into the house after Elio left with a nosebleed, she looked in Oliver’s direction, despite all the distractions from the political chatter, and during lunch on the day of the upcoming midnight rendezvous, she is seen sitting thoughtfully looking after Oliver.
Later that day, Elio gives his “concert” for Mounir and Isaac. When Oliver arrives in the background, either alerted by Elio’s look or the fact that Isaac turns around, we can see her, for a brief moment right at the edge of the frame, noticing Oliver’s arrival too. It is safe to assume that she knows something is afoot, that there is a meeting coming up when Elios finds an excuse to leave (“I’m so tired”) as soon as Oliver turned up.
At the exact moment Oliver can be seen in the background, he is rewarded with a forceful flourish in the Poulenc piece Elio is playing.
The whole scene is shot with a remarkably shallow focus, relegating Elio’s audience to shadowy presences totally without importance to him, whose sole interest lies in meeting Oliver. (For more interesting use of focus, see the kissing in the second article.)
When Dr. Perlman brings up Oliver’s trip to Bergamo before he has to leave straight for the US, Annella responds: “Maybe it could be nice for the two of them to get away for a couple of days, no?” He immediately puts her hand on her knee, and she responds to this loving touch. The almost involuntary caress, as if sprung from their subconscious, seems a tell-tale sign of a tacit mutual understanding that Elio and Oliver are romantically involved.
As the film title declares, the lovers make a playful pact of calling each other by their own names, indicating that they are so attuned and feel so deeply for each other that their personalities are merging. The name-calling returns in the epilogue with bittersweet effect. It is interesting, then, to look at how names are treated in the film. When Dr. Perlman introduces them, their names are already there almost fused: “Elio, Oliver. Oliver, Elio.” (Oliver’s name contains all the letters of Elio’s, as if they were predestined to meet and get intertwined.) The merging is further indicated by otherwise innocuously commonplace phrases like “our home is your home” and “my room is now your room”. (In the meantime Elio is moving into a room that is as temporary as their love is destined to be.) It is tempting to include the bantering of Elio’s parents in the epilogue: “you caught us in the process of choosing the new you for next summer”; “And guess what? He’s a she.”
Elio’s scribblings portrays “me” as surrounded by Oliver, with lots of “Elio” and “Me” intertwined in each other on the bottom of the page.
During their trip, when they shout their names as they run up the hillside, it is also to play with the echo of the mountainous area, as if the landscape itself is in on their game, hollering their names back. Earlier, in one curious moment, Elio mysteriously mutters “do I know you” to himself as he is urinating, mimicking Oliver’s earlier action when Elio was lying on the bed, hoping for Oliver enter his room. There are other peculiar parallels. When Elio picks up a book that Oliver is using for his work, Elio voices its name (“The Cosmic Fragments by Heraclitus”) and as if in some kind of answer, when Elio reads from a sheet of notes stuck inside, it is Oliver’s voice reciting them. When Elio reads Oliver’s message we hear in Oliver’s voice: “Grow Up. I’ll see you at midnight”. Elio repeats the message, but non-diegetically, not only with the same words but with a method of delivery that is exactly matching Oliver’s.
While Elio is miserably struggling to compose his note for Oliver, a music score lies just beside him, almost mocking his difficulties, in contrast to his fluency in music and the ease with which we have seen him transcribing music. The next day – meaningfully? – Oliver’s return message lies on top of that score.
Men and women
During the future lovers’ first conversation at the piazza, suddenly Oliver discovers his fly is open and discretely closes it – a kind of physical Freudian slip in view of what is coming! In early viewings, this author thought Elio to be exclusively gay, merely using Marzia for sexual training purposes or as a distraction to alleviate his frustrations with Oliver. But it seems he must be bisexual: for one thing, he has such a raging erection during their date that Marzia is pointing it out. Plus in two other situations – after his missed appointment with her after the Lake Garda trip, and when his embrace of her is interrupted by the dinner guests’ arrival – he applies a solid grip to his groin; evidently something is seriously out of whack down there. So he seems to have a consistent sexual appetite for women.
The little door beside the gate takes on an amusing “revolving door” aspect, as two prospective lovers leave and come in the space of just a few seconds. On this fine day, the sexually inexperienced Elio will have made love to both of them, a man and a woman.
It seems significant that Elio now is frolicking with Marzia in the same pool where he so often has spent time with Oliver. With her he can do everything he dreamed of doing with Oliver – Elio is watching him but only when Oliver has his back turned – something that comes across in the sexualised nature of their behaviour. When he drags her under, it is reminiscent of the situation where Oliver suddenly threw himself into the pool, and lay still as if dead, which also connects all this to the statues and their sensuality. Swimming with Marzia here, Elio also grows much more assertive, and he is the driving force with Oliver as well as Marzia in the sex scenes, almost as if he has used her for a dry run, to get experience (possibly inspired by Oliver’s “grow up”).
This is another favourite moment: The local young men are priceless in their studious cool, and the girl is dancing in an amusingly rigid fashion, time and again breaking into a movement as if she were a cross-country skier.
The dancing and the reappearance of the anthem-like “Love My Way” form a bittersweet arc with the disco scene, in a depopulated, darker, lonelier version. (The following, last stages of the film are analysed in the first article, here, and in the second one, here.)
Oliver’s automatic selection of a person of the opposite sex rather than Elio as a dance partner – perhaps also the inflexible way the girl is dancing and the presence of a chain in the image – suggests that Oliver will succumb to external pressures and ultimately go for a traditional way of life.
Elio is back where he started, once again relegated to the sidelines, having to watch the object of his desire dance with a girl. The situation beautifully points back to the earlier scene but also into the future, a premonition of the unhappy resolution to Elio and Oliver’s relationship.
Enclosure 1: Long takes
Call Me by Your Name contains an unusual number of long takes, with 57 shots of a duration of 30+ seconds. Its average shot length is 12.8 seconds. The total number of shots are 604. There are also a large number of shots in the 10-29 second brackets. Some statistics:
This is a list of all 30+ second shots, in descending order:
269 seconds The central piazza scene, Elio starting to articulate his feelings
208 Close-up of Elio before fireplace, last shot of the film
173 First shot of Dr. Perlman monologue scene
123 Foreplay between Elio and Oliver, ending with camera looking out window
119 Annella reading from the Heptaméron for the others
117 Elio teasing Oliver by playing several variations of same Bach composition
115 Elio masturbating with peach
108 Elio and Oliver are kissing, ending with door slamming shut
103 Elio and Oliver lying by the pond, their first kiss
96 Elio tries to rouse Oliver for dinner, on the day of his arrival
95 Elio and Oliver fighting over peach, ending with Elio crying
80 The first piazza scene, Elio and Oliver’s first private conversation
76 Elio says goodbye to Oliver at train station
75 Elio is fooling around with Oliver’s trunks
70 The gay couple arrive for dinner at the Perlman house
67 Dr. Perlman delivers intimate confession during his monologue
64 First part of Elio’s phone conversation with Oliver
61 Elio plays piano for his parents and the gay couple, as Oliver comes home
60 Elio and Oliver at swimming pool, before joining Annella by fruit tree
58 Oliver’s first breakfast after arriving
56 Breakfast the morning after Elio and Oliver’s lovemaking
55 First shot after central piazza scene, Elio and Oliver biking away into far distance
55 Last part of Elio’s phone conversation with Oliver
53 Oliver returns home, Elio lying on bed with Oliver in adjacent bathroom
53 Elio and Oliver’s nocturnal talk, including about time they have lost
52 Oliver performs oral sex on Elio in doorway
50 Elio and Oliver lying in bed morning after lovemaking, Elio waking up and becoming distant
49 First shot of peach scene, Elio reading and eating a peach
42 Elio and Oliver enter hotel room on trip
42 Elio approaches fireplace, sits down, penultimate shot of the film
41 Elio having embarrassing sex with Marzia
41 Elio discovers Oliver’s message agreeing to meeting him at midnight
40 Elio undressing Marzia in the loft
40 Elio quarrelling with his father, unwilling to wear a particular shirt
40 Elio enters kitchen with peaches, encounters his mother, leaving for loft
40 Elio phones home from train station
39 Elio waiting and pining for Oliver, with strange light phenomena affecting the image
39 Elio wakes up, discovers that Oliver has gifted him his shirt
39 Train with Oliver leaving the station
39 Oliver reads from manuscript to Elio by swimming pool
38 Elio speaking with Chiara before leaving for Lake Garda
38 Oliver gives Elio blowjob before they fight over the peach
38 Elio starts dancing in disco scene
37 The Perlmans and Oliver having lunch, after Elio has received Oliver’s message
36 Elio and Oliver wade into the cool pond
35 Elio and Oliver talking after lovemaking, heads upside-down
34 Elio meets Oliver for the first time, in his father’s study
34 Elio writes and discards messages for Oliver
34 Elio and Oliver enter bus, embarking upon trip
33 Elio and Marzia speak about reading books during date in the city
33 Elio and Oliver discuss Heptaméron story, before going to city for piazza scene
31 Elio and other youngsters at the table during disco scene
31 Elio and Oliver speak about Chiara by the car before going to Lake Garda
31 Elio waiting for Oliver at dusk, while “Futile Devices” is playing
31 Elio and Oliver after sex, wiping themselves off with shirt
30 Elio and Oliver kissing in the city during trip
30 Elio and Marzia kissing during date in the city
Enclosure 2: Music
Befitting a film whose protagonist is a piano player, all pieces not heard from radios are piano-based, also the Sufjan Stevens contributions, except “Mystery of Love”, but this breaking of tone is in fact suitable due to the holiday mood when it occurs. The following is a list of all the music that appears in the film, chronologically (reappearances of the same piece are given along with its first listing):
The briefest period of faint notes while Elio is transcribing music, uncredited, but the heading of his score says Schoenberg’s Drei Klavierstücke, and what he is transcribing tallies very well with the score given in this YouTube recording
M.A.Y in the Backyard by Ryuchi Sakamoto over the last seconds of first piazza scene and early part of etymology scene, and returns when Elio is shaving and during start of dinner afterwards
J’Adore Venise by Loredana Bertè from radio in bar where Oliver play cards, and returns on the car radio when Elio waits in car while his mother enters the same bar, late in the film
Paris Latino by Bandolero from radio during volleyball match
Zion hört Die Wäcther singen by Bach, non-diegetically while Elio is writing on notepad, then diegetically in his headphones when Anchise comes with the fish, and fainter at the start of swimming pool scene when Oliver shows him manuscript
Une Barque sur l’océan played by Elio, then reappears thrice in central piazza scene and twice when they bike through landscape afterwards
Le jardin feérique from Ma mère l’Oye by Ravel from record player when Annella reads Heptaméron story aloud, returns non-diegetally over last part of Dr. Perlman’s monologue and over first two winter images of epilogue
Futile Devices by Sufjan Stevens while Elio waits for Oliver at dusk, and over next scene while Elio is in his room while Oliver appears in bathroom, stops just before Oliver closes door
Germination by Ryuchi Sakamoto, when Elio mutters “traitor”, afterwards as he lurks outside, looking up at window, over the political satire TV show, phone call to Marzia, and stops just before Elio arrives for date with her, then returns over last seconds of unsuccessful sex scene with her and as he frantically writes messages for Oliver – the piece thus bookends this passage, starts and ends with longing, with the unsatisfactory hetero sex in between – before it stops over image of intertwining bicycles, foreshadowing good news via Oliver’s answer message
China Gates by John Adams, when Dr. Perlman and Oliver discuss slide show of statues – thus forming a statue-related pairing with the other Adams “Gates” piece from Lake Garda – and Elio meanwhile discovering Oliver’s message, before dying out during lunch
Words by Fr David on radio during sex scene with Marzia
Mystery of Love by Sufjan Stevens when Elio and Oliver are on bus and during nature hike
Enclosure 3: The waterfall dissolves
While Elio and Oliver are on their nature hike, we see this waterfall, shot with a camera that is panning downwards…
…while it is still going downwards (in the top shot, look at the small stream in the right bottom corner having grown longer), the shot dissolves into another one of the waterfall, seen from further down on the hillside, with that shot too captured by a camera panning downwards…
…until we have reached the two lovers on their way up.
Now the camera is following them for a bit, approaching the rocks in the foreground…
…but now something is happening – see the darker field in the bottom left area. The rocks have been doubled, since the camera is not moving any more but the shot is dissolving for the rest of the distance…
…now, in the top shot, there are definitely two layers of the same ground, and when the dissolve is finished, the heroes (in the top shot you can see Oliver raising his arms) have “disappeared” into the waterfall. (The image that the film is dissolving to was shot without the protagonists present.)
The dissolve is happening so fast that it is hardly noticeable by the conscious mind, but space has been bent in an otherworldly manner. Here is the situation before and after the dissolve, with the rocks clearly having moved closer, but only with a few metres.
The practical reason for this highly unusual dissolve closure of the scene is probably that it was desirable with an abrupt cut to the next scene, the lovers suddenly opening the door to their hotel room, but the waterfall scene itself needed a soft landing.