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    Scorchingly Intense Call Me by Your Name Emphasizes Sensuality, Not Sexuality

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Call Me by Your Name, gay filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s extraordinary adaptation of André Aciman’s novel, opens December 15 in the Bay Area. The film depicts the slow-burn—but scorchingly intense—relationship between Oliver (Armie Hammer), a twenty-something summer intern, and Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a seventeen-year-old, in Northern Italy, 1983.

    Guadagnino, working from a script by gay filmmaker James Ivory, mines incredible sexual tension between his romantic leads. Viewers will ache along with Elio as this lush romance unfolds. The filmmaker emphasizes sensuality, not sexuality, and in doing so he creates tremendous emotion.

    Guadagnino recently chatted with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about making Call Me by Your Name.

    Gary M. Kramer: I’m curious: what were you like as a teenager?

    Luca Gaudagnino: I am the third and last child in my family, which led me to be independent. I was really in my own mind, and developing the wonderment of what I wanted to do—become a filmmaker. I had a camera. I was very alone and had few friends. I didn’t join the dance floor.

    Gary M. Kramer: You are an openly gay filmmaker, but this is your first film where a gay relationship is the central focus. Can you talk about that?

    Luca Gaudagnino:
    This is an Anglo-Saxon perspective. I am more interested in psychoanalysis, and the unconscious of people. I want to delve into that. What is the measure of our desires, whatever the gender? My agenda is to tell the stories of my characters.

    Gary M. Kramer: What I love about your cinema is the sensory experiences. How do you create the tactility of feeling and emotions?

    Luca Gaudagnino: Cinema is a language where we try to immerse an audience in these stories. It can evoke warmth, coldness, fear; I think that it is an experience I enjoy at the movies—being immersed in that. As a filmmaker, I try to encompass that. I believe in the full experience of an emotional journey.

    Gary M. Kramer: I think Oliver giving Elio a foot massage is sexier than the film’s blowjob scene. How did you approach the sensuality in the film?

    Luca Gaudagnino: That’s a testament to the quality of my actors. They are so committed that they make their characters blossom on screen. I agree that the manipulation of the feet is much more [erotically] charged than the intercourse we could have visualized.

    Gary M. Kramer: How did you work with the actors to create their chemistry?

    Luca Gaudagnino:
    I told them not take the characters too seriously. Make them lively. I wanted them to feel they knew each other a long time as a family, not actors acting as a family.

    Gary M. Kramer: There is a very emotional father/son scene in the film. Can you talk about your experiences with your parents, perhaps when you came out to them?

    Luca Gaudagnino: This is not an autobiographical film, so that’s a complicated question to answer. My parents were not like Elio’s, and I wasn’t like Elio. The way I felt guided or misguided by them was less vocal. For instance, when I was a kid, I was directly and indirectly told that Italian culture was the most important thing. As for my coming out, I never had a necessity to come out because I was always the person I wanted to be—and that was never interfered with. I was maybe privileged in this sense. Sometimes, the level of censorship we suffer comes from within.

    Gary M. Kramer: Call Me by Your Name is a box office hit, and has earned critical praise and awards. Why do you think this film has connected so strongly with audiences?

    Luca Gaudagnino: I believe in duality. We are in an angry time, where anger is the first step—there is hatred and suspicion toward the other. Call Me by Your Name is about compassion, and complete surrender to the “otherness” of the other to become a better person. That plays as a counterpart to this hatred. I think the film has been perceived as a soothing balm. I like to think that. I received an email from a handsome young man, a straight son of a friend. He said the film reminded him of his first love and how much he suffered and withdrew and became colder [after the relationship ended]. He didn’t know how to deal with the damage. This film showed him. There is nothing more precious and beautiful than a reaction like that.

    Gary M. Kramer: On that same note, I like how Oliver impacts Elio’s life. What person or relationship influenced your outlook on life?

    Luca Gaudagnino: My partner, whom I’ve been with for the past 9 years. He’s the most important person in my life and I’m happy were still together.

    © 2017 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer