Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino and based on the novel by André Aciman, tells the story of a 17-year-old teenage boy (played by a 23-year-old) named Elio who has a love affair with a 24-year-old man (played by a 31-year-old) named Oliver in the exquisite paradise of a villa outside a small town in 1980s Italy. The movie captures the slow, hot laziness of an easy summer, the strange proximity of an attractive stranger, and the fleeting, near-desperate nature of lightning-in-a-bottle love.

 Armie Hammer as Oliver and Timothée Chalamet as Elio in  Call Me By Your Name .

Armie Hammer as Oliver and Timothée Chalamet as Elio in Call Me By Your Name.

It does not, however, concern itself that much with gay stuff. Yes, there are certain dynamics to the budding relationship that are specific to two men, but neither the movie (nor the book upon which it was based) is desperate to make any observations about what it means to be gay or queer or homosexual or even just different. (It might even be worth noting that Aciman himself isn’t gay, though the director of the film is.) Which isn’t to say that the genders of the protagonists are unimportant—the story differentiates between the sex-for-sex’s sake that Elio engages in with a local girl and the next level emotional and physical fusion that the two male lovers experience by using sexuality as the differentiating line.

But I’d argue that the movie’s main concern is not about sexual orientation. Elio faces no internal struggle in either book or film about who he is, seeming to brush blithely past the first stage of Vivienne Cass’ coming out identity model—identity confusion—and just takes a deep breath as he mashes his face into the netting of Oliver’s bathing suit. Nor does Oliver, happy to throw himself headlong into an affair with his professor’s teenage son.

The movie concerns itself much more with longing, that anxiety of trying to know what someone else is thinking while not being able to stop thinking about them (in the novel, Aciman executes this idea expertly, writing from Elio’s point of view, extending the longing into an acute ache, one that I found deeply resonant). The articulation of the languorous afternoons oppressive with heat and lust is wonderful, and having the characters brought to life by two heartthrobs like Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer doesn’t hurt either.

 Michael Stuhlbarg, left, and Chalamet and Hammer in  Call Me By Your Name .

Michael Stuhlbarg, left, and Chalamet and Hammer in Call Me By Your Name.

It is probably the most affecting scene (in both film and book) that cements the story’s disinterest in sexual identity. It comes towards the end, when Elio has a heart-to-heart with his father, brought to life spookily-well by Michael Stuhlbarg (who has the distinction of being in three Best Picture nominated films and is nominated himself for none of them). In that conversation, Elio’s father gets real with him about the potency of the connection he and Oliver have. Never once in the conversation (or possibly the whole film) do the words “gay,” “queer,” or “homosexual,” show up. In some ways, even though the film is set in the ’80s, it seems like it wants to exist in a post-sexual identity society, where everyone is everything, and all are prepared for love and lust to surprise it in unexpected and arresting ways.

I’m not trying to argue that CMBYN shouldn’t be getting the accolades it is getting, nor that it isn’t an important film for queer cinema (well, white gay cinema, anyway). I would have *loved* to have had this movie available to me as a confused, closeted teen (hell, as a confused out twenty-something), and I hope as another addition in the canon of contemporary cinema it gives everyone who sees it a wider scope through which it can view the possibilities and preciousness of love.

All of this is to say, that the most important LGBTQ movie that came out in 2017 was one that was barely screened anywhere, it seems (I’m not even certain it got its Oscar-qualifying limited LA run). I saw it during a three-showing run at the Arena Cinelounge, which is a very comfortable theater inside an office building on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I wouldn’t have even known about it, except Slate’s movie critic Dana Stevens endorsed it as part of her weekly appearance on the Slate Culture Gabfest.

BPM (Beats per Minute), directed by Robin Campillo takes place in early ’90s France, and explores the lives of the activists of the Paris chapter of ACT UP, the direct-action HIV/AIDS protest group (I’ve since learned that ACT UP is an acronym—AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). And unlike Call Me By Your Name, which seems to shy away from its own sexuality, BPM is beautifully, unapologetically queer.

A solid 30% of the movie takes place in a University lecture hall where the group hosts its meetings and “debats” or discussions of how they can best further their cause. The film rather nimbly educates/reminds its audience of the context and stakes of this time period in the AIDS epidemic—governments dragging their feet to put policies in place to help protect at-risk populations, pharmaceutical companies slow to release drugs and make them widely accessible, while also guarding closely their proprietary research, and a public that ranges from uneducated to unsympathetic to simply hateful.

 Antoine Reinartz in  BPM.

Antoine Reinartz in BPM.

(In one incredibly stirring scene, the ACT UP activists storm a high school, interrupting classes to give the students a crash course in safe sex that the school refuses to give them. They invade one classroom where a teacher attempts to shut them down and retrieve the condoms being passed out, while in the next classroom, the teacher says, “Listen up, kids, this is important.”)

BPM forces all of its characters to interface with their sexuality actively, and I mean this both on an identity level and on a physical one.

Identity is a huge part of the film, and demonstrating their sexuality in public is a big part of the ACT UP cause. While this is done gleefully during a cheerleading march in the Paris Pride Parade, it’s underscored in a chilling way in a scene where two activists who are putting up posters get scolded by two other gay men, who want ACT UP “to just leave us alone,” that is, allow them to have unsafe, closeted sex.

Physically, the movie just isn’t afraid of gay sex the way that Call Me By Your Name seems to be. Guadagnino defended his decision to leave out any explicit gay sex, saying at the New York Film Festival, “To put our gaze upon their lovemaking would have been a sort of unkind intrusion.” (I’d argue that Aciman’s novel is all about re-envisioning intrusion as intimacy—even more eyebrow-raising than the peach scene in the book is one where Elio and Oliver hang out together while defecating, but that’s a different essay, I suppose).

 Nahuel Pérez Biscayart and Arnaud Valois in  BPM .

Nahuel Pérez Biscayart and Arnaud Valois in BPM.

Where CMBYN pans away from two boys getting it on, BPM seems to zoom in, or at least, doesn’t want to look away. Even more importantly, it doesn’t abstract sex into a homogeneous act—the characters discuss protection, positions, and their personal realizations that they were gay (underscoring the relevance of Cass’ model). In a scene that I found very affecting (though this might have more to do with me being a sexually active gay man in PReP-saturated Los Angeles than anything else), two men, Sean who is HIV-positive, and Nathan, who is not, are about to have oral sex for the first time. As Nathan is about to go down on Sean, he’s stopped. “I prefer it with a condom,” Sean says.

Another aspect of queerness that makes BPM distinct from its more popular American cousin is the way that it engages with history. Several characters describe early gay experiences and the ways in which they were hidden, shameful, and hurtful. Nathan talks about getting picked up by a man who would drive him several hours away so they could have sex far from the watchful eye of his family. Sean tells the story of the teacher who he had an affair with in high school, and who gave him the virus “his first time.” In these and other instances, love is something that is inherently political and historical, and which has to everywhere fight against a shaming culture.

In fact, maybe it’s this aspect which describes why a film like Call Me By Your Name is having a moment while BPM is not: the sex in the former is apolitical. In a gay-marriage-for-all world, there seems to be an appetite for uncontroversial love (let us set aside for a moment the controversy over the disparate ages of the lovers). In Aciman’s novel, we retain the high stakes of the affair through being privy to Elio’s yearning and anxieties; we are less in a bubble than we’re experiencing Elio’s tunnel vision. But in the film we lose much of that, and are content to get lost in the blinding yet attainable light of Armie Hammer’s smile. Their love exists in a bubble, and even when the bubble is burst, all we can think about is the bubble.

In BPM, though, sex is a death-defying act; survival is not a melodramatic couch-faint, it’s an immediate and terrifying question. Taglines I remember from my own AIDS-obsessed sex education resurface here in pillowtalk: safe sex is 100% their responsibility and 100% your responsibility. It begs the question: can sex be depoliticized?

Maybe a better way to frame the question is this: what does it mean that the single queer-centric film nominated for Best Picture in 2018 takes place in the 1980s and seems unconcerned with HIV/AIDS? What does it say that this film shows a sexual romance between a 17- and 24-year-old and doesn’t include a discussion of consent or safe sex? And what is it about this act of sex—about putting penises in men’s butts—that still makes our directors feel the need to look away?

Guadagnino has made a beautiful, compelling film, to be sure; Campillo, in BPM, has created an important and relevant historical queer text, and everyone should seek it out.

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