Everyone remembers their first time—though not all of us were lucky enough to have the Italian countryside as the backdrop. I could be talking about a first love, or a first consensual sexual encounter, both of which serve as an unofficial marker of our leap from childhood to adulthood. In your case, I’m talking about your first movie job. And, like most firsts, it’s a little confusing.
You’re credited as being a “runner” on Call Me By Your Name, and as an office PA on All the Money in the World, which were filmed concurrently in Italy. Both must have been memorable for their own reasons ( one maybe more so than the other). Like Elio, the young protagonist of Call Me ByYour Name, you had two firsts, but only one of them really counted. Perhaps it’s too soon for you to decide. We often don’t appreciate the most meaningful events of our lives until after they happen.
Call Me By Your Name is the kind of film that doesn’t feel special right away. It meanders, it hints at self-indulgence, and dares us to be as bored as Elio, the 17 year-old son of an archaeology prof, who, over the course of a lazy Italian summer, falls for Oliver, his father’s 24 year-old American grad student. Their friendship evolves slowly and awkwardly. Both pursue side relationships with local girls, dalliances which prolong the inevitable: an affair which feels perfectly organic, not despite the lengthy and frustrating build-up, but because of it. Elio and Oliver spend their remaining time together in giddy infatuation, well aware that their relationship has a fast-approaching expiry date. By the time the film reaches its foregone conclusion, the short arc of Elio and Oliver’s brief relationship feels like it has spanned a lifetime.
As you ran the grounds of the villa, fetching espresso and tidying the sets, did you recognize that you were a part of something special? Did you realize that this simple coming of age story about a gifted Jewish teen who transcribes Bach and lives with his liberal, academic parents in early -80s Italy where he falls in love with an older man would be so universally adored? I personally wasn’t sure what all of the fuss was about, cynical as I am about anything that is universally adored. I saw lush cinematography that took advantage of the fertile, Lombardian surroundings. I befriended the comely leads, Timothee Chalamet’s Elio, and Armie Hammer’s Oliver. I heard characters who were as charmingly maladroit as they were painfully erudite. I worried over the plot, which seemed agonizingly languorous. I started to wonder, like I have during other James Ivory productions, that maybe the yearning was too contrived. That maybe this movie just wasn’t for me.
Then it happened. This film overwhelmed me.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when this happened. Perhaps it was when Elio and Oliver finally decide to consummate their affair, and the initiation is drawn out excruciatingly (and humourously). It might have been when Elio admits he wishes they hadn’t waited so long to be together, hadn’t wasted so much time. It could have been the many moments in between when I knew that my rooting for their love to last was pointless. Still, I couldn’t help myself. By the end of the film, when Michael Stuhlbarg (as Elio’s father) delivers what is surely one of modern cinema’s most achingly beautiful monologues, I was a puddle. I can’t even talk about the end credits yet. It’s still too soon.
You may work on bigger films with bigger stars. You may work your way up the ladder and direct your own films one day. But you will always have a soft spot for your first. I am going to see Call Me By Your Name again tomorrow and I can’t wait. I want to engage with what I dismissed the first time. I want to relive the beauty and the pain, to appreciate the moments that hit me to know if they still hold true. I don’t know if this will happen. I may not walk away from this film as fond of it as I was the first time. But that’s the blessing and the curse of firsts; you only get to experience them once.