The sequel to Call Me By Your Name should not be politicised
No pressure: Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer (©SONY PICTURES CLASSICS)
Luca Guadagnino, the director of the 2017 film phenomenon Call Me by Your Name, which tells the story of two young men falling in love on a holiday in Italy, recently announced that he was working on a sequel. The sequel will be “different in tone” from the original film and “address issues” such as Aids and the Iraq war.
Call Me by Your Name is the finest film of the decade. It is a benchmark, unattained and unattainable; it is a masterpiece, or at least it comes very close. Like music, it appeals to the senses; it barely has a plot, evoking instead a kaleidoscope of images — languorous, strange, illogical — but immensely powerful, like impressionist poetry, the rhymes of Verlaine. It would be hard to make a sequel, difficult to rival perfection.
What’s worse, the sequel is set to have a social agenda. The notable thing about the original film is that it is blatantly apolitical: it has no ideology, no doctrine, no worldview to impose. It is set in 1983, but you only know it because they play the Flashdance soundtrack at the town disco. Great events are happening in the world, yet at the dinner table the characters discuss Buñuel films and Heidegger’s interpretation of Heraclitus.
Significantly, Call Me By Your Name is not about sexual identity. Oliver and Elio, the protagonists, are free to pursue their love: they face no obstructions, no pressure from society. And as you watch their strange courtship unfold, as you see every nuanced emotion masterfully conveyed by the two lead actors — Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet — you forget what their gender is; you don’t care if they are men or women, gay or straight. All you see is two human beings who have found love, the kind of love that is so rare that most of us can only ever dream of experiencing.
It’s a film about the human condition, and any attempt to politicise it will only detract from its aesthetics. I am not saying that issues such as Aids and the Iraq war should not be explored in films — only that they do not belong in this particular film.
Making a sequel to a masterpiece is a risky business. What if it disappoints? But if Guadagnino does make it, perhaps the new film could meditate on the following line from André Aciman’s eponymous novel: “Here, under this wall in Rome, I had finally encountered a life that was right for me but that I failed to have.” Thus speaks Elio the grown man as he stands by the wall where Oliver had kissed him 20 years ago. So Call Me by Your Name 2 could be about regret: bitter, unrelenting regret that the best moments of your life are in the past, in that hot summer in Italy 20 years ago. Since then, you’ve settled for attraction, affection and a joint household, like the rest of us. But in Rome, you had the real thing. And all that is left to you is memories, the billowy shirt that he gave you on your last day together, and the wall in Rome where your kiss is still imprinted, and where you stand and think, “I could have had that instead.”
If Guadagnino and James Ivory, who at the age of 89 won the best adapted screenplay Oscar for Call Me By Your Name, can pull this off, there is no film that I would rather see.