Those who have experienced - and relive - the enchantment of Merchant and Ivory's cinematography are aware of their mastery in overcoming the novels from which they made their films. Real cinematic jewels, whose screenplay is able to smooth out the contours, fill the spaces and make the story told perfectly homogeneous.
Until the disappearance of Merchant, the title that best exemplified this concept is, without doubt, Maurice. Surprisingly, however, thirty years later, Ivory was able to recreate the alchemy between Hugh Grant and James Wilby and surpass himself. In 2018, in fact, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me By Your Name.
Everything has already been said about this prodigious feature film (based on the book of the same name by André Aciman), directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Starting from the enchanted atmospheres, passing through the perfection of the setting to the skill of the protagonists.
However, the Italian audience has one more chance and that is to accompany the viewing of the film, the reading of the book: Una sana ossessione. Tra gli eroi, i luoghi e gli incanti di ‘Chiamami col tuo nome by Luca Manduca.
Splendid research work that gave us the opportunity to exchange a few words with him, to further focus on the characters of Elio and Oliver, soul and heart of this essential masterpiece.
The book and the film present literary quotations, perfectly consistent with the plot. Do you think there are any on an intrinsic level?
The literary quotations present in the film and remarked in my book have the function of highlighting the evolution of the relationship between the protagonists that goes from merely passionate to sublime. However, I think there are also some intrinsic or implicit quotations in the continuous reference to classical Greek culture, to suggest the idea of a precise, atavistic and (therefore) consolidated path of formation and growth. It is the path on whose cobblestones the relationship between Elio and Oliver unfolds. That's not all: all nature around is a perennial quotation. Just as grass grows in spring and peaches ripen in summer, so "natural" are the passion and the feeling that binds the two boys.
In your book you often refer to the importance of water as the dominant natural element. Why do you think Guadagnino wanted to underline its omnipresence in this way? Almost as if to indicate the way in which the protagonists are fumbling in the awareness of a bond without a future...
In my travels in search of locations I had the confirmation that Guadagnino knew well, even before shooting CMBYN (Editor's note: 'Call Me By Your Name'), the territory co-protagonist of the film. The Cremasque has a peculiarity: there is a secret water under the ground. The water in the Cremasque moves inexorably but not as loudly. It is a discreet, however, not ordinary water that characterizes (for example) Farinate's fountains, just as discreet and not ordinary (for 1983) is the relationship drawn between Elio and Oliver. This relationship follows its natural course, in the same way as water that cannot help but flow in its stony bed and between two banks that only apparently contain it.
The house is, de facto, one of the main characters of the story that develops before our eyes. The places are fundamental and I know that you have undertaken a real journey of discovery. What was it like to find yourself in 'Elio and Oliver's places', in person?
I imagined Villa Albergoni as a great feud within walls well protected by the conservative and largely hypocritical society of the 1980s. Elio's villa (as I call it) is a world of its own and every fan would like to physically cross the gate overlooking the Via Roma in Moscazzano, to breathe the same air inhaled by their heroes. I visited all the locations of the film over a period of three seasons. And some of these locations I have reached over and over again. I'm practically at home in Crema! And every time I visit my friends at the Pro Loco the emotion is renewed [editor's note: the Pro Loco of Crema is always ready to satisfy any request from Italian and international tourists]. Why so many people are attracted to CMBYN places? Guadagnino has managed to tell the story of the lands of Elio and Oliver without using embellishments and frills, or particular technical strategies to show a beauty "superior" to reality. Those who go to Crema will not find a Duomo square less monumental than the one captured in the film; the Torrazzo is the same compared to the one shown on the film; the countryside, the fountain, the views of Bergamo or the caves of Catullus, the Serio waterfalls or the small lake are in reality as they were shown in the film. The fan who tramples these places finds himself at home, between familiar architectural corners and that creamy summer nature well imprinted in his mind.
Call me by your name is a successful attempt at 'intruder literature': the individual who, with his or her presence alone, changes the dynamics known until then. Do you agree? Do you think Oliver is the only character in the narrative that can be considered as such?
Oliver, the strange Jew who came to Italy from New England, certainly shakes the "adolescent" hormones of Elio (and not only of him). But is that really the way things are? Elio is expecting Oliver's arrival and must have seen him in pictures (not all of him). When Oliver arrives Elio is in his room, with Marzia. He knows that The Usurpateur is coming. And he arrives at last. Oliver more than intruder is a nuisance. Elio because of the American has to leave his habitat, but it is a matter that is repeated every summer and he is used to this custom. So who's the real intruder? In my opinion it is that "unexpected side" of himself that Elio discovers because of that expected arrival. At the beginning Oliver apparently keeps himself at a distance, he's even disagreeable with that "later" of his. And yet Elio gradually feels gravitated to the orbit of that handsome man (Muvi Star) so confident. "Why?" Elio asks himself. And it's an intruding woodworm that slips into the seventeen-year-old's crowded thoughts, upsetting them.
Let's spend a few words on the film's superb soundtrack. Do you think it 'adds' something to the narrative compared to what Aciman's book has done?
This film is a masterpiece also thanks to the soundtrack. Each of the tracks is like a dart that hits the target perfectly: the melancholic state of the biggest and widest slice of fans. We should also mention Sufjan Stevens though, who with his three pieces has devastated everyone's tear dams. CMBYN is a rare case of a few (very few) successful films. The music is not used to fill (non-existent) voids, but caresses and colours the images that follow one another along the narrative thread.
I conclude by asking if you are ready for a sequel to your book, in view of the future work of Guadagnino and Co.
I love cinema and I know that sequels are unlikely to be able to perpetrate the excitement of the first film. The sequel, for audiences and insiders, is always a gamble, and almost always the result of totally commercial dynamics. I belong to that group of fans who would not want to see the beloved masterpiece "polluted". I'm not preparing for the sequel or waiting for it, but if it really comes, I'm not going to dodge it or snub it. To those who are working on it I just say that expectations are unimaginably high and fans don't forgive missteps.
For those who still don't have enough (and let's face it: beauty leaves an insatiable thirst), you can go to Crema and take advantage of the Elio & Oliver Love Tour guided tour. Hours and hours of extraordinary intensity to discover the places of the film. A widely recommended experience to re-watch the film with different eyes, more aware towards the reasons for such formal perfection.