It's a rare event when I can think back on a book and say the movie is just as good (and vice versa). I read the book in a somewhat convoluted manner, wanting to finish it before I saw the movie, which just won an Oscar for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay, but instead seeing the movie in the midst of reading the book. I loved them both and was pleased to see the film nominated for several awards, though the film veered slightly from Aciman's novel. Not in a bad way, and of course an adapted film is its own work of art and a reinterpretation of a story, so it should stand on its own. The film is close, but the novel takes the story to a further point in the characters' lives that we don't see onscreen. It does set a slightly different tone, but for me, they seemed to work equally well.
I'm so glad André Aciman's 2007 novel, Call Me By Your Name was adapted to film as it brought the story to a wider audience that might otherwise have not thought to pick up the book, myself included. The story is a coming of age novel, a story of first love and intense longing, about being assured of yourself in some ways, but completely at swim in other ways. It matters not one whit that in this case the love story is between two men, as the feelings and desires and uncertainties are universal. So often while reading I wondered how it was that Aciman was so very perceptive and could look into my mind and know I have done and thought the same in my own life. Both novel and film are beautifully done, visually as well as in the acting and writing.
Elio is the son of ex-pat parents living in Italy. His father is an academic who every summer offers a doctoral student free room and board in exchange with help eidting his manuscripts, the promise of which is always a bit of a bore for Elio who is just on the cusp of adulthood and precocious for his age--cultured in two languages as well as music and literature. However, he's just that age where he feels the least noticed and certainly the least listened to, but this summer is different. He feels an almost immediate attraction and connection with the student who arrives from America.
Oliver is twenty-four to Elio's seventeen, seemingly self-assured and at ease in his situation. He exudes a charm and an unperturbable nonchalance that seems to Elio to run hot and cold. He's not quite sure where he stands with Oliver, but there are moments when he is sure there is some little spark.
"I liked how our minds seemed to travel in parallel, how we instantly inferred what words the other was toying with but at the last moment held back."
Elio is unsure if what he senses from Oliver is an actual attraction and he's racked with doubts and uncertainties. There is this indifference that Oliver seems to have and he naturally is comfortable with everyone connected with the family and the little Italian village it seems. So Elio watches while Oliver hangs out with the local crowd and even appears to have a romance with one of the village girls. For all his intellectual prowess Elio isn't even sure if what he thinks he feels for Oliver is more than just desire.
"This was probably the first time in my life that I spoke to an adult without planning some of what I was going to say. I was too nervous to plan anything."
This is a classic story of first love. It's confusing and painful yet wildly exciting and exuberant. It's the sort of romance that could be fleeting but that won't ever be forgotten. It's the sort of romance that is impossible considering the time and circumstances and so is bittersweet. Set in the mid-1980s, there is not so much contemplation on identity--the romance is what it is. Neither Elio or Oliver sees it necessarily as anything but normal yet they are still careful about keeping the romance quiet. And it's just as natural for both to have or consider romance with the local girls, though I imagine there is all sorts of subtext there. It felt less a story primarily about gender and identity and more simply about love and attraction. It's about wants and desires and understanding yourself and wanting to be with someone who also understands those things inside yourself. And loves you for those things, or maybe despite those things.
I loved the book and I loved the movie. When I first saw the trailer for the film, it gave me goosebumps and made me go out and buy the book. I'm so glad I did.