“Call Me By Your Name” (2017)

call meA near-masterpiece of abandon. Luca Guadagnino, possibly the most exciting Italian director in decades, conjures a period when European movies had yet to become uglified, realist “testaments” to cultural and moral decadence: Call Me By Your Name is as luminous as Renoir’s A Day in the Country; it reconciles Jan Troell’s love of nature with the hedonism of Bertolucci—bodies moving in the ruins. These are not the ruins of L’Avventura, where the half-dead met on a desert island to proclaim the Death of Europe. In Call Me By Your Name the ruins are alive, rife with promise. An ancient statue emerges from the water as if supernaturally summoned to the surface, its beauty catching us off guard. Far from an archaeology lesson, the scene offers the authentic pleasure of discovery and a feeling of rebirth. Guadagnino isn’t interested in crystallizing history; he doesn’t care for sharp contrasts or oppositions (Antiquity vs. Modernity, etc). History for him means living, breathing experience.

The movie takes place in Northern Italy during one fateful 1980s summer. It’s a love letter to the bond—lyrical, sexual, intellectual—between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and an older foreigner, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Chalamet’s performance as the restless, hyper-cultured Elio is one for the ages: half-aristocratic, half-bohemian, deceptively angelic and full of dazzling natural arrogance. (Oliver’s “coarseness” is a sort of aphrodisiac for him.) Elio’s father is an admirer of Praxiteles and his sculpting of the human form, of the human bodies “daring us to desire them.” Guadagnino’s Italian summer has bodies of its own, and they move nimbly in the landscape—a type of premoral Eden. This is the rare film where there is almost no tension, no “drama” of the standard kind, but a steady flow of discovery and, finally, transcendence.

For the movie to invoke the great pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus is no small gesture. (Plato is omitted, left to his cave, same as the later Greek and Christian moralists.) Heraclitus’ doctrine of eternal change knows no martyrdom, no morality, no mawkish lamentation: and in one exultant close-up, as Elio looks into the Heraclitean flames, loss and bliss are unified, indistinguishable from each other. It’s a movie rich in feeling and free of tragedy: a love story that elevates the individual and his understanding of the world, one that gives pain and joy their equal due.

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Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, the Thai cinematographer (of Uncle Boonmee fame), is essential when it comes to capturing this free-flowing communion between man, man’s feelings and nature. The days and nights impress themselves on us. At one point there is a blackout, and the camera lingers in the shadows, finding a strange sort of familial warmth in it: Mukdeeprom welcomes the dark into his canvas. There is a smell of Greek leisure in the air. (So often is leisure used as a subject of decay in modern movies that it’s shocking to see it treated as a much-needed ground for human growth.)

As a coming-of-age movie, it rivals Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también, though Call Me By Your Name is aloof in its timelessness. Guadagnino sees no distinction between emotions and intellect: his ideas are sensual, free of posturing. Elio’s mind-body disconnect is only a temporary source of anguish before Oliver, an Italian girlfriend and a peach come to the rescue. The magic is such that there seem to be no contradictions between the old Hellenic values and 80s pop music. In his devotion to an ever-vital present Guadagnino discovers what may be the most fertile form of remembrance. This movie is purged of all decadence. The ruins are part of the dance.

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Return to Twin Peaks: Chilling New Vision, New Mood

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EPISODES 1 & 2 SPOILERS!

Those expecting the bucolic, incongruously funny piece of small-town Americana with a jazzy perversion underneath—that genius mix of soap opera, comedy and horror that revolutionized 90s television—are in for something of a shock.

From the opening scene of the first episode—an unsettling montage of old and new footage centered on the titular town and the faraway echoes of Laura Palmer’s murder—Season 3 brings with it an entirely new vision. (You get the feeling the town is haunted, stuck in a loop.) It’s 2017, and evil, much like BOB, has spread all over the country: there are scenes in Las Vegas, South Dakota and a memorable segment in an alien-looking New York. A guy in his 20s stares soullessly at a glass box, waiting for something to happen, clueless as to why he’s even waiting: when sometimes finally materializes, it eats away at him. The scene is more frightening than almost anything in horror movies. It seems a violation of reality, both within the show and outside of it, and it has a scarring effect. Right from the onset, Lynch questions our ideas of what’s real, and a new paradigm is set: there are no comfort zones in this Twin Peaks. We might fall into NON-EXIS-TENCE at any second.

Peak Scenes in Episodes 1 & 2

Bad Coop terrorizes Darya: Eliciting a revelatory performance from Kyle Maclachlan, this scene is the tangible reminder that this is still Cooper we’re witnessing, not merely good old BOB. It’s Cooper’s hyper-rational side, his superior intellect and intuition stripped of everything else—fixated on coordinates, on tracing crucial information. It’s the Cooper who wants to stay alive at any cost (“I don’t need anything; I want“) without the full Cooper’s characteristic love of life. The antagonizing duality of the two agents sets the stage for the metaphysical epic to come.

Part 2In South Dakota: Potential murderer Bill Hastings and his horrifyingly suburban wife Phyllis face off in an despairingly long take, the camera almost inside their faces: the scene is the deranged offspring of the soap opera undercurrents of the original show, a display of emotional ugliness so heightened that it’s all-out hilarious. As Bad Cooper tells Phyllis, “you’ve followed human nature perfectly.” Lynch turns inevitability and repetition into comedy.

Inside the Red Room: Coop and Laura reunite in the Black Lodge. Sheryl Lee brings a new sadness to Laura’s aging broken soul, but her mischief is ongoing.

In Twin Peaks: A frail-looking Log Lady returns in a poignant scene with a mission for Hank. Andy and Lucy are still adorably lost. Sheriff Truman is missed. And we get a small glimpse of James and Shelly, still visitors of the Bang Bang Bar.

top04Inside Laura Palmer’s house: The defining moment so far. Sarah Palmer (the unparalleled Grace Zabriskie) has a new flat TV that seems bigger than her living room. She’s dropped soap operas for wildlife documentaries, and we watch as the images of animals devouring each other’s faces engulf both her and the house, and the mirrors in the room duplicate the horrors being projected. The scene embodies with masterly simplicity the essence of the new Twin Peaks: a mood of paralyzing stillness and recurring reciprocal violence (Sarah invites the horrors into her house: they don’t come unwanted.) And just as Sarah’s living room is taken over by wild beasts that aren’t there, reality itself is being overrun, no longer recognizable. Rarely has a scene of everyday domesticity felt less homely and more alien.

As the Log Lady warns us, “Something is missing.”

TO BE CONTINUED…