Monthly Archives: August 2018

LFF 2017: All Summer Long

Beach Rats literally flashes to life. The flash of a camera phone taking selfies at various angles that are trying to be provocative. Trying to look a certain way, project a certain image. They’re trying. Frankie, the film’s adolescent protagonist, on the cusp of a summer of love and hate, is trying, too. He’s trying to work himself out.

Frankie is torn between two things. What he wants, and what he thinks he should want. What he wants, is to go online and cruise older men. To begin with, this seems to be for nothing more than validation, to look and be looked at, to want and be wanted. He insists he doesn’t meet up with the men from the site he frequents. What he thinks he wants is just what his friends (who he insists are “not his friends”) want: to hang out, do drugs, and sleep with pretty girls. Frankie does all of these things, but they don’t seem to bring him any kind of happiness or fulfilment. If anything, they just serve to highlight the lack that he’s dealing with, the lack that comes from not going after what it is he really wants.

When Frankie meets up with people, it begins the same way as his online interactions do. He looks and is looked at. He wants and his wanted. These meetings all lead to sexual acts of one kind or another; some by the beach, some in hotel rooms, but wherever he goes, he doesn’t go there alone. They’re not shown as being terrifying or titillating, they’re simply shown. They just are what they are. Beach Rats exists at a kind of distance from its subject. Not an unfeeling distance, but a Larry Clark kind of distance; like a voyeur, always worried that if they’re caught too loudly, they’ll be caught in the act. In sex, as with the light of Frankie’s phone camera, bodies are shown in fragments; hands grab and touch, but any kind of wholeness is avoided.

Throughout all of his interactions, with friends, family, or lovers, Frankie is afraid. Afraid of being too much, of not being enough, of being outed, of being inadequate. Beach Rats has fear beating through its heart. Every breath that Frankie takes in the company of the men he sleeps with is imbued with fear. The interaction he has with his girlfriend when she says “when two guys make out, it’s just gay,” is fearful. The simple fact that Frankie doesn’t know what he is, and doesn’t understand what he wants, is full of fear. On a primal level, the unknown is sheer terror, and that’s what Frankie contends with throughout Beach Rats. He flinches away from intimacy after sex; not wanting to be too much, or maybe not wanting to be too “gay.” Sexuality isn’t really brought up much in dialogue, other than Frankie saying he “doesn’t think of himself as gay.” But Beach Rats is about fear, not sexuality or coming. The closet exists, of course, and Frankie is obviously in it, but coming out of it isn’t treated as being all that important. Instead, coming to terms is. Coming to terms with what you want, who you are, with the small degree of safety that can come from knowing, a moment of intimacy on a hotel room bed. Frankie doesn’t live in the closet, he lives in fear. He waits for the truth to set him free, and it doesn’t as his summer ends the way it began, with fireworks on the boardwalk. The truth will set him free, later, just not before its finished with him.

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LFF 2017: Being Alive

There seems to be a visual contradiction running through Call Me By Your Name. It’s a film about intimacy, and sexuality. Yet it keeps some things at a distance. It favours long takes and images of stunning scenery to close-ups of faces in anguish or ecstasy. But that doesn’t make it cold, or unfeeling. If anything, it’s exactly the opposite, and the slight distance that the camera keeps is the only way to stop Call Me By Your Name from being utterly overpowering.

Call Me By Your Name is, simply put, full of things. This is true on a lot of the levels the film operates on. It’s full of longing glances and stolen moments, full of sculpture and literature and art, full of nature and food and music. But nothing feels like it’s there just to be there. Everything there feels alive. Call Me By Your Name isn’t just full of things, its full of life, it shows a world that’s lived in. Even discussions about etymology manage to relate to the world of the film. It might be a bit on the nose, with reference to things being “precocious” just as the camera presents us with a shot of Elio, who even gets described as precocious in a plot summary on IMDB. But the film never tries to be subtle, not really. It zooms in on the first moment of intimate contact between Elio and Oliver, a shot that, by now, seems all too familiar.

It makes sense for Call Me By Your Name to be unsubtle though. After all, there’s something about it that threatens to overpower. We see the way these characters live and feel through the things and people that they surround themselves with. Art of all kinds, from pop music to classical piano, is treated with paramount importance. As a way of seeing someone, a way of understanding them. There’s a scene where Elio plays the piano for Oliver, a version of something he played minutes earlier on an acoustic guitar. He plays variations on it, and one of them is tinged with rock and roll. As Elio plays it, we see him swept up in the feeling of the music, face contorting like Mick Jagger or Jim Morrison. There’s a similar moment, much later in the film, when Oliver is looking at slides of sculptures with Elio’s father. Oliver is being told about the way the sculptures curve, their ambiguity, and the way they “almost dare you to desire them.” Then Elio walks in, desiring Oliver as he desires the sculptures, which are really a way of desiring Elio.

The life of Call Me By Your Name isn’t all academic and artistic though. It exists on a physical level as well as an intellectual one. Elio watches Oliver dancing to a pop song, watches the way his body moves, the way he kisses the girl opposite him. The music is imbued with desire, like the sculptures or the piano music. Desire is at the heart of Call Me By Your Name, it pulses through the films veins. Everything in the film is felt by someone, every piece of art, every thump of a volleyball; every kiss, all of it is felt. There is a whole world of things in Call Me By Your Name, things that bring us closer to the characters than a camera ever could, closer than the longest close-up of Elio staring at Oliver ever could. The rapture we see Elio feel when he plays piano is more than enough, like the uninhibited way that Oliver dances. In spite of the physical distance the camera keeps us at, the lived-in quality of Call Me By Your Name gives us something much richer, something much more than physical closeness: intimacy.

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