What’s in a Name: Berlinale closes with Call Me By Your Name, an intense love story that rises above gender barriers

Based on a book by the same name, the film comes riding on raves from Sundance, and has been acquired by Sony Pictures Classics for worldwide distribution: will India be on the slate?

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: February 17, 2017 12:32 am
Call me by your name, berlinale, berlin international film festival, berlin film festival, call me by your name berlinale, indian express, world news A still from Call Me By Your Name.

And so, as all good things that come to pass, it is my last day at the Berlinale, and it ends spectacularly. I manage to get out of the two-km radius of the Potsdamer Platz and Sony Centre, the bustling heart of the film festival, and head to the central district of Alexanderplatz, 12 euros by cab, and three by bus, but darn it, no time, not even for a quick sandwich, so bite the bullet and shell out the dosh, and pray that I won’t keel over from starvation.

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I have to queue in line reserved for those who do not have tickets (the sympathetic person at the media centre says “all sold out” but that does not deter the truly determined, which also constitute euro-counting-and-wincing visiting film critics), and I’m running to be there an hour before it starts, because the lines can be insanely long, and because this is a film not to be missed.

Call Me By Your Name, set in the summer of 1983 in a gorgeous sun-drenched part of north Italy, is about young love, capturing with marvellous felicity that breathless flush of feeling which overcomes all thought. And it develops between the precocious 17-year-old Elio and Oliver, an impossibly handsome 20-something American who is his father’s temporary assistant.

Based on a book by the same name, the film comes riding on raves from Sundance, and has been acquired by Sony Pictures Classics for worldwide distribution: will India be on the slate? It should, because Call Me By Your Name treads familiar coming-of-age territory but makes it particular by the lush landscape — ripening peaches, plucked off a tree, can be the ultimate sensuous accessory — which makes all the drowsing and dreaming almost mandatory. And by the explosive chemistry between the two lead actors, Arnie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet.

Calling it a gay love story reduces it. This kind of love can blossom between any and all gender, and by what looks like a conscious decision, by keeping explicit love-making scenes off the table, it becomes more about connecting and living. By feeling most alive when with the beloved. By calling him (or her) by your name, because what could be more intimate?

The intensity, if you’re lucky to find someone who fits, can kill. And if you’re luckier, envelope you like a warm embrace. Elio’s father, played with youthful exuberance by Michael Stuhlbarg, understands the preciousness of it (this understanding, of what can be termed as illegitimate passion between two young men in these deeply conservative times, makes the film unusual).

It feels long at just over two hours. But it’s lovely. I do manage a chill-busting warm meal-in-a-bowl after the film. But even if I hadn’t , it would have been okay. Because the film has left me feeling full, in the best possible way.

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