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February 20, 2018

Call Me by Your Name: Luca Guadagnino brings Italy back into the running after 20 years

In January 23, 2018, nominations were announced for the 90th Academy Awards, the Oscars, to be held at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on March 4. Among the nominations for Best Film was the Italian-directed Call Me by Your Name by Luca Guadagnino. The film is an international production in English and, although not nominated for Best Foreign Film, achieved candidacy in four major categories: Best Film (20 years following Roberto Benigni’s La vita è bella), Best Actor in a leading role (for 22 year-old Timothée Chalamet, the youngest candidate since 1939), Best Adapted Screenplay (by the masterful James Ivory), and Best Song, “Mystery of Love” by Sufjan Stevens. Guadagnino’s film is based on André Aciman’s short novel, a delicate story of friendship becoming the discovery of love and attraction between two young men, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer).

The nominations complete a long, international journey for the film that began one year ago at the Berlin International Film Festival, undergoing much foreign review culminating in the Hollywood awards season. The film arrived in theaters from Warner Brothers distribution in Italy on February 8, having already made several stops at some of the principal international film festivals including Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, Sydney, San Sebastian, London, and Rio de Janeiro. It received three nominations at the Golden Globes, six at the Independent Spirit Awards, and won the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Critics’ Choice Awards. With this, and at the risk of being too proud, we have our fingers crossed for its Oscar chances.

The relationship between the Oscars and Italy runs long and rich in prizes. The last Italian film to win Best Foreign Film was Paolo Sorrentino’s La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) in 2014. Italy has won eleven gold statues in the category, plus two more before the award was officially instituted: film giant Vittorio De Sica’s Sciuscià(Shoeshine) in 1947 and Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) in 1949. The foreign film category was then introduced in 1956, the same year as Italy’s win with Federico Fellini’s La Strada.

In the categories considered “technical,” we can claim more than 30 statues: from costumes in Rome in La Dolce Vita (Piero Gherardi) to the set design of Hugo by Dante Ferretti (Martin Scorsese); from the photography shot by Vittorio Storaro in Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola) to Carlo Rambaldi’s creation of E.T. (Steven Spielberg). This is not to forget the music of Ennio Morricone, among the most beautiful in the history of cinema. The master, after his first Oscar in 2007, took the stage at the Dolby Theater again in 2016 to take home his second statue, for The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino). And in the most recent nominations, set director Alessandra Querzola, alongside set designer Dennis Gassner, is nominated this year for her work in Blade Runner 2049.

Italy boasts records in major Oscar categories. Anna Magnani won Best Actress for The Rose Tattoo (Daniel Mann) in 1955. 1962 marked Sophia Loren’s turn for Best Actress for La Ciociara (Two Women) again by Vittorio De Sica, also taking home the prize for the first portrayal not recited in the English language. Then in 1997, Roberto Benigni became the first non-native English speaker and actor in the history of the Academy Awards to win the prestigious Best Foreign Film award for La vita è bella(Life is Beautiful), also nominated for Best Film. And Lina Wertmüller was the first woman to be nominated in the category for Best Director. We conclude this quick (and incomplete) roundup with Bernardo Bertolucci, who in 1987 directed The Last Emperor, shot in China, an enormous international success that won nine Oscars, including Best Film and Best Director.

We return to Guadagnino and his extraordinary film, set in the summer of 1983, between the provinces of Brescia and Bergamo. Elio Perlman is a 17-year-old Italian-American of Jewish descent living with his parents in their eighteenth-century villa. Oliver is the 24-year-old graduate student who arrives for the remainder of his studies with Elio’s father, a university professor of Greek and Roman culture. Elio is immediately attracted to this new presence and guest, and what will become the transformative relationship to profoundly change his life. Here Guadagnino closes an ideal trilogy of desire, beginning with Io sono l’amore (I Am Love) in 2009 and A Bigger Splash in 2015.

Guadagnino is a master not only in his directing of these two wonderful actors but also in using space if as it was alive. Each place has a reason to be present, and pulses with life and emotion. Call Me by Your Name is a film full of emotion and an extraordinary and engaging story of love, first love, and coming-of-age. Elio tries to resist his attraction and inclination to discover Oliver’s body and soul. He tries by loving Marzia, who is his age and shares his inexperience and so does not become his partner in a real relationship (since it is not the same for Marzia as well). Particularly delicate and enchanting is the way the agreement is made between desire and the erotic pleasure of the two young men. A high point of the film is Elio’s father’s advice to his son following Oliver’s departure. I am not a parent like some others, he says, so if you would like to open your heart, I am here, I will listen; what you had was a profound friendship, and perhaps more; if your pain is excruciating, cherish it to remember; defending the emotions that we go through makes us human, even if we have to suffer. An exquisite conversation that makes for a masterful rendering on-screen, it is not to be missed.

It’s unfortunate that Guadagnino is not as esteemed in Italy as he has been received abroad, as he himself noted in a recent interview. No man is a prophet in his own land, perhaps. We, personally, adore his film, and wish him the best of luck at the magical night of the Oscars.

Antonio Iannotta
Artistic Director, San Diego Italian Film Festival
Translation by Brooke Welling

‍Italian director Luca Guadagnino (R) and actors Timothee Chalamet (C) and Armie Hammer (L)