BONUS: The Intimacy of Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name”

Timothée Chalamet

“I remember everything.” is how Elio describes his sexual awakening summer romance with Oliver.

I wish he was the only one who remembers everything because I haven’t thought about any other movie since I saw Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 film, Call Me By Your Name. I remember everything. For the longest time it felt like I never could truly properly write about this movie because it was simply hard to explain how personal it felt to me. Every kiss, every movement, every laugh, every dance, every look, goodbye, embrace. If I could talk about them, I would. But I couldn’t even begin. I didn’t know where to start.

Call Me By Your Name is innocent and raw. It’s a story on the journey of falling in love in your youth, and also the heart-aching grief and desolation that comes with getting your heart broken for the first time. Elio’s summer romance felt so personal that you feel connected with him as he contemplates back and forth his attraction towards Oliver. He also takes you with him as he grapples with his feelings until the final moment that he gets his heart painstakingly shattered. The final scene in which he eventually comes to terms with his emotions and breaks down so honestly in front of us, has got to be one of the best ever and raw-est depiction of emotion in cinema ever. It was Timothée Chalamet’s performance that makes it so heartbreakingly beautiful, but the subtle direction and the powerful scoring contribute greatly as well.

The script is so honest and so pure that it never felt forced or artificial. It’s completely candid and sensitive and tender all at the same time. The script’s “nakedness” is what makes it so astonishingly true-to-life because it parallels with how unembellished first love is. The whole story successfully unlocked my deepest memories of my first love and managed to weave Elio’s story with mine creating this sentimentality as if the movie is mine.

The two characters were far from perfect, but they were real. The movie was never about homosexuality (which people mistake it for), rather, it’s the opposite ingraining in its audience that homosexuality is so similar to normal love that it shouldn’t be treated as a big deal, because it’s normal. Elio and Oliver’s love story is simply just love. It’s not trying to make a statement or any social commentary. It is simply being. Their love is not set apart from other kinds of love. And the fact that this movie connects with the audience despite their sexual orientations and beliefs simply proves it.

In fact, everything that happens in the movie are so simple that it has the ability to connect with anyone. The characters engage in simple conversations, mundane tasks, and day-to-day nothingness. I haven’t seen this kind of intimacy of a film with the customary since Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight), and those films are my absolute favorite! So the fact that Call Me By Your Name was able to incorporate the same kind of theme is probably why I enjoyed it a lot. By the time the two characters were climbing up that mountain and Sufjan Stevens’s ‘Mystery of Love’ was playing, I knew that the deal was sealed. I had fallen in love with the film.

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A Heavy Trip for the Softest of Hearts

Johannes Holopainen and Ville Tiihonen

Heavy Trip was a whole adventure in itself and one of the more enjoyable films of the class. I’m not particularly a fan of metal music, but turned into a fan of the movie. The film exhibited an ability in connecting audiences with non-traditional characters that are often subjects of being frowned upon. Characters that aren’t conventionally portrayed with warmth were suddenly characters to root for and cry over. The main characters, or should I call them, Impaled Rektum, had real-life aspirations and worries that made them unsurprisingly easy to connect with. Like I previously mentioned, I am not exactly a fan of the comedy genre, but this film turned out to be much more than an enjoyable fable. It has a surprising tender side in the midst of head-banging metal music and is made with careful consideration of its characters and its characters’ aspirations.

Goofy, ridiculous, & enjoyable without the cringe of comedies. I mean there was plenty of cringe every time icky vomits fill the seen, but all the cringe was intentional. Everything was funny from the character’s dialogues, to how they move, to how they look, to them just being there, on screen, as awkward quirky metal fans. I think some gags would’ve worked better if I had known more about the metal music background. But despite not being a fan of this type of music, I still was able to completely enjoy the film.

However, some of the scenes of the movie still became victims of the formulaic comedy trope. Much of those were on the second half of the film, which sort of lost its momentum. The journey to Norway became much more predictable and slightly childish. Yet on the other hand, the amusing moments sprinkled throughout the script, such as the running joke about their “symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer-grinding Christ-abusing extreme war pagan Fennoscandian metal” music, were still enough to carry the film towards the end, and be an overall amusing adventure.

Volver: A Celebration of Women

Penélope Cruz and Yohana Cobo

“Every one in this movie is a liar, but I love them all just the same.” says one review on this 2006 Spanish film by Pedro Almodovar.

There is something infectious about Volver that is moving and incredibly heartwarming. Whether it’s the passionate take on a melodrama or the commanding performances that are drawn out from the leading actors. I found myself deeply hooked onto this soap-opera, yearning for the characters’ domestic lives and being absorbed into all the drama they’re surrounded with. I can’t help but wonder that this might be the secret of soap-operas that have run for years. People find themselves coming back to this form of storytelling because it’s over-bloated with many events that it becomes addicting.

The movie is no exception in the the over-bloatedness of soap dramas. I was actually shocked while watching the film on how much content was served in the movie from being a fable about ghosts, to a homicide, to a cancer-stricken drama, to a story on abuse. Yet they all surprisingly blend well together without even being heavy at all. You’d think that bombarding a movie with that many depressing themes would be too much, but the film was able to handle them, and I think that is Almodovar’s talent.

He took a simply domestic story and blew it up to a point of almost being a fantasy. He then successfully incorporated emotionally stirring tragedies into the character’s lives while intelligently weaving them with high-spirited joyful scenes that ultimately balanced the whole narrative. It is in this sense of balance that makes Volver such a compelling film to watch.

As you watch Volver, things reveal themselves as not being what they initially seem. A mystery is always lurking in its atmosphere and the film keeps changing genres, moving from theme to theme. Volver manages to surprise us, with shocking occurrences scene by scene that we are just forced to accept that this is a movie that refuses to be boxed. Always it comes and shocks, potentially changing the ways to look at the story and its characters. Almodovar doesn’t cheat his audiences by providing a twist with no weight to anchor it, the revealed details are always within its world, it may change the way we look at the film, but it never changes to the point of being out-of-hand. It sometimes becomes ridiculous, but never too illogical. Everything is built up in its exposition, and then delivered with emotional force that strikes the heart.

The film’s themes of death, abuse, confession, and womanhood are on full display here. But it is in the theme of confession that Volver makes a fascinating story of its characters. The characters are stricken by the abuse and damage of men, leading its women to fight back, sometimes ending in drastic results. These become weight for these women to bear, a secret that they must keep for the benefit of themselves and those they love. But at the end, the movie states the importance of confession, a necessary ritual that must be undertaken to clear the consciences of these women. And those careful considerations of those characters’ stories are what make the film a celebration of women. Women are highlighted as multi-layered individuals able to decide for themselves as well as carry their own narratives.

Persona: A Study on Timeless Cinema

Persona (1966)

Bergman’s masterpiece holds the incredible feat of being considered one of if not the best film ever made. Furthermore, if L’Avventura was one of my favorite films from this class, Persona is my favorite.

There are many factors that go into Persona being a masterpiece. From the famous opening sequence that is an editor’s paradise (in fact often cited as an example of the best edits in film history) to iconic shots and frames with light and texture. The way the film molds the two actresses with the camera utilizing their shadows and poses. And incredible dialogues all under the masterful direction and brilliant performances.

On the surface, the film is obviously concerned with the recurring symbolism of duality. There is duality within the two characters: their on-the-surface dispositions, to their deeper nature and persona. There is also duality in the interpretation that the two women may be one, and just representations of two extreme characters of one woman. However, this is just one of the many interpretations that could be extracted from Persona.

The intelligent blend of surrealism and realism is also a topic to discuss. The film constantly makes you wonder which scenes really occurred and which ones are mere imaginations. The motives are never really clear, and the actions are subjects to interpretation. The film’s use of surrealism vs realism keeps the audience at bay and imprisons them to be engaged with the material. The possibility of vast film discussions regarding the events of the movie is one of its most attractive qualities.

Another heavy theme that can be found in the movie is the reversal in roles. Who is the nurse and who is the patient? Who is the one that is “mad”? Who is actually treating who? In the beginning, Alma, with her profession, is clearly the caretaker, but once in the summer home she becomes increasingly more dependent of Elisabeth, and starts to show insane tendencies and lunacy. Alma becomes the more manic one in need of help, while Elisabeth despite her forced muteness still applied, is the more sane of the two. The gradual and subtle role reversals delivers in raw power of the characters. This of course is aided by the wonderful talents, Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann.

But perhaps, the least talked about theme of the movie, but is my favorite (because I pride myself in completely figuring it out on my own) is it’s study on motherhood. Both characters exhibited insanity that throughout the movie is carefully revealed as quite connected to their maternal roles. Their mental illnesses can be perceived as unconsciously rooting from their failure as mothers, and how that messes with their personas and perceived ideas of themselves. The opening shot of the sickly boy who reaches out to a white screen which turned out to be the character’s faces, can be argued as the aborted baby that is reaching out to its mother that killed him. This opening can be one of the mental horrors that cloud Alma’s mind that induces her to be manic.

Overall, Persona is a film that could be interpreted in many ways, and I find that it could be viewed in varying voices and lenses which make it a timeless cinematic triumph.

Suspiria: Nightmarishly Gripping

Suspiria (2018)

Suspiria is a movie that I had heard about before watching in class. There had been so many reviews about it (both negative and positive), but I still didn’t expect it’d be something I would absolutely be cray about. It doesn’t exactly use the dance academy as anything more than just a new place to gather a bunch of girls together and throw them through a nightmarish haunted mansion. But the setting is still properly used shining the spotlight on the art of dance as a gateway into a horror film.

The way the dancers bodies twist and serve with horror combined with the rising tension of the aggressive pressure to get everything right, as their breaths get heavier, faster, and harder, ends up making you equally as exhausted as they are, except you don’t get to feel the relief that they do. Every scene in the movie surprises you that right as soon as you think you’ve seen the worst, Guadagnino goes out of his way to show you just how deep this rabbit hole goes and the places you end up in aren’t exactly places you want to stay, making you uncomfortable. The film never fails to keep you on your toes, and engulfed in its perpetual state of terror. Atmosphere is very much what this film is focused on. The director sets up the scenes but doesn’t really give an indication of where it’s going, and it’s not schlocky horror that you’re waiting for jump scares to come at the screen, but you are waiting for something. Whether it’s a gratuitous scene involving the witches, or random shots spliced together, I was never not on edge. And I don’t know about other people, but there’s something about uncomfortable movies that know how to make me uneasy with prolonged shots and the proper use of silence and/or music that I greatly admire. I admire subtlety of creative decisions that lead to generating anxiety on the viewers.

Another thing I love is how the film shows us the inner workings of a group, how they interact with each other. I was surprised as well how this movie managed to do so much with such a drab looking color palette. The performances are also to be noted as I thought they all did absolutely amazing. Furthermore, the film manages to be challenging, scary, and utterly captivating from start to finish, even with the nearly three-hour run time.

Raw: It’s Not About Cannibalism

Garance Marillier

After reading that some people fainted and threw up in theatres while watch Raw, I was not pleased when I heard we were going to watch it in class. But after watching, I personally didn’t find the viewing of it that terrible. Some parts were obviously disturbing and disgusting, but I was able to finish it. I wanted to finish it. The movie was compelling, and made the viewing of a sickening story pretty entertaining.

Raw is visceral, disturbing, and downright stomach-churning. Yet it is easily one of the the better films of the horror genre. It manages to indulge in the elements that often marginalize it while redeeming them with a loftier artistic goal in mind. By the film’s culmination you’ll not only have been thoroughly disturbed but also properly illuminated about the dangerous lines we walk to fight our inherent natures.

The story follows a a teenager called Justine who is going to college alongside her older, and somewhat rebellious sister. Justine has been brought up by strict parents, among whose personal tenets is an almost zealous adherence to vegetarianism. It is not long after Justine gets to college, and introduced to the rigorous hazing of her peers, that the convictions she’s been raised with are challenged. This begins with the ritualistic consumption of an animal’s kidney which, cowed by the pressure, she eats.

There were many splendid things about Raw. The cinematography, for example, was masterful, making the scenes visually pleasing to watch despite its viscerality. The performances, especially of the actress who plays Justine, were also exceptional. Cannibalism was made to look truly believable. And there also lies the brilliance of the film’s scoring. An ambiance was established well that worked with the narrative the film was trying to tell. The film was also a metaphor for the quick downward spiral that people fall into in their formative years as they give up convictions under the guise of exploration and losing “innocence” a pursuing our truer, darker nature. The film manages to be subtle and artistic with this parallel while simultaneously washing in gruesome horror.

Raw occasionally loses itself trying to say everything it wants to say, but it is undoubtedly an audacious (and quite witty) project that is never not interesting to watch. When it works, it works beautifully, and several moments in the film are contenders for best scenes I’ve ever seen. The final scene in particular was beyond brilliant and even coupled with a killer ending line. The actresses were amazing and as sisters in the film, they do a hell of a job selling the emotions of the movie. The film takes us through an examination of identity, burgeoning sexuality, addiction, freedom, and the line between man and animal, but at the end of the day, it’s a story about two sisters and their love for each other. This isn’t a cannibalism movie. It’s a story about a coming-of-age, sisterhood, and humanity, filtered through a horror setup.

Troll Fantasy At Its Best

Otto Jespersen, Johanna Mørch, Tomas Alf Larsen, and Glenn Erland Tosterud

Director André Øvredal convincingly turned the fairy tale troll into a reality through one great entertaining footage film. By methodically creating a more modern day treatment of the Troll legend, the movie successfully bridged the gap between fantasy and reality. The devil is in the details, in this fantasy film. From the mythology to the orchestrated government conspiracy to keep the trolls existence underwraps. From the storyline that make impossible for the secret to be maintained, up to the conflicted, disgruntled Troll Hunter, played by Otto Jespersen, who plays the role with a certain level of stellar dramatic weight that in my opinion truly deserves recognition.

While the overall tone of the film is serious, the underlying nature could be best described as subtle fun. But never compromising the very real threat the Trolls poses to the human population. Fear and imminent danger go hand in hand in this film (downed trees, demolished vehicles, unfortunate deaths). The location also couldn’t have been more fitting as it has the appearance of being equally mysterious and charming. The wisps of fog hanging eerily in the air, the fjords, the plentiful waterfalls jetting out of mountainside, and the rocky remote wilderness.

I never imagined I would enjoy a movie about Trolls this much. And I never wanted it to end. I literally felt myself disappear and feel like I was part of the footage. I had for all intents and purposes become one with the film.

It doesn’t just treat the idea of Troll Hunting as another big fantasy epic that happens to have a Found Footage ankle, it actually treats it with a fair mix of the fantasy we know from classic tales with the modernization of common silence. For example, the most famous trait of trolls is that they turn to stone when exposed to sunlight, and the film cleverly explains why once we’re about half way through.

The found footage angle as well doesn’t come off as a cheap gimmick to draw in the viewer, but used for getting a hands on feel for the act of Troll Hunting. Again, this isn’t a movie about Trolls, it’s about hunting them, so the documentary style gives the film a grounded sensuality that pays off greatly.