In 2017, Luca Guadagnino's coming-of-age romantic drama Call Me By Your Name completely won over cinephiles. It was the kind of story that felt relatable and unique, all at the same time - perhaps because it did not focus on just one element. It was a culmination of a young boy's exploration of his sexuality, the restrictions that existed in society at the time, the relationship he shared with his parents, and the first brush of love.
Backed by truly breathtaking performances by lead actors, and well-developed character arcs, this was one of those rare adaptations that, in its entirety, captured the essence of the novel it was based on (André Aciman's novel of the same name).
Every scene in the movie is intricately stitched together to weave Elio’s tale of falling in love with a man and coming to terms with it. And there are far too many wonderful moments to pick out just one best scene.
However, after Elio and Oliver are separated because of distance, personal obligations and societal restrictions, Elio’s father helps him process his grief. And that is, in cinematic history, one of the most wonderful, understanding, and emotional scenes to show the aftermath of a breakup.
This five-minute-long scene has multiple layers to it. What is, essentially, Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue is developed in a manner that you feel a part of the movie. As if you too are sitting on the couch, listening to his advice, crying with Elio, and finally letting those long-buried wounds heal.
Elio (played exceptionally well by Timothée Chalamet) returns from his trip with Oliver, knowing that his chances of seeing Oliver again are next to none. As he sits, wallowing in his pain, his father approaches him and offers him advice.
It’s not just the wisdom behind Mr. Perlman’s words, but also the gentleness of his tone that helps set the scene up. Mr. Perlman is aware that Elio has, on his own, not discussed his relationship. He thus takes extra care to tread carefully into the discussion, constantly ensuring that he does not cross a line. At no point does he undermine Elio’s feelings as a ‘passing phase’. Neither does he question the potency of Elio’s feelings because of his young age.
This is the first thing about the scene that strikes you. Yes, the whole movie shows how Elio’s parents are progressive, understanding, and quite possibly, one of the coolest fictional parents. But it’s in this scene that you truly value the respect and space that Elio’s parents offer him - even as they attempt to comfort him. And here, Michael Stuhlbarg’s nuanced performance speaks volumes.
The second takeaway from this scene is the actual advice that Mr. Perlman is imparting. Because his words come from a place of love and understanding. He hasn’t forgotten what it is like to be in love and thus, is able to grasp what it is like to not see the same love come to completion.
And his advice - which, interestingly, is exactly how it’s written in the novel - includes sentiments that are relatable for anyone who has suffered from heartbreak. The lovers who never had a chance to watch their love stand the test of times. The partners who had a glimpse of a magical future, only to watch it fade away, in the face of heartbreaking reality. These are the people who relate to his advice.
Lastly, the scene - just like the complete film - shows the pure genius of Timothee Chalamet’s acting prowess. He has but one or two small dialogues in the scene. But from his body language to his expressions, and even the tiniest of gesture - everything is presented so brilliantly, that you can’t help but feel his pain with him. It’s his pain that allows Mr. Perlman’s words to leave an even greater impact. Because you can see the effect the advice is having on Elio.
There can be various reasons why two people in love decide to part ways. But the separation, irrespective of the reason, is never easy to deal with. And the worst is when the breakup is induced by external factors - factors that are beyond your control.
Because you're not just giving up on what was. You're also missing out on what you imagine it could be. You're letting go of the future you envisioned. And this separation is somehow, the hardest to process.
But Call Me By Your Name captured the essence of this feeling so beautifully, with such a raw and honest portrayal, that every time you watch the film, your heart hurts with the characters.
The advice in this scene works for multiple reasons. But at the core of it, it's an acceptance of the hand fate dealt you. And this kind of acceptance hurts the most. But it also allows the memories to not corrode your heart, but rather, to empower it. So one day, you may feel again.
This is not the only scene, in cinematic history, to deal with a breakup in a sensitive and empathetic manner. The moment you think of breakup advice in movies, Robin William’s speech from Good Will Hunting comes to your mind. But this is one of the finest representations of two people coming together to deal with the pain of heartbreak. Of a father stepping up for his emotionally distraught son. Of a teenage son letting his father’s word of advice be the balm for his aching heart. And for that, it does become memorable in its own right.
You can watch the complete scene here.