Some people are upset about Call Me By Your Name. It has a critical approval rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, but the fact that it portrays an erotic relationship between a 17-year-old teen and a 24-year-old man has ignited the inevitable controversy. Some — many actually — have accused the film of promoting pedophilia. I’m not kidding.
It would be laughable if not so sad. You don’t have to be a troll like Milo Yiannopoulos to know there is a huge difference between ephebophilia (sex with teens, which may be illegal, though not necessarily immoral, even when it violates age of consent laws) and pedophilia (sex with prepubescent children, which is plainly wrong). What happens between Elio and Oliver is neither illegal (the age of consent in the film’s setting is 16) nor immoral (since there is nothing predatory on the part of Oliver, the 24-year old). Sexual relationships that are outside societal comfort zones aren’t necessarily abusive — especially in our overprotective zones these days which condescend to 15-17 year olds as if they’re 10-12.
As a sexual coming of age story, Call Me By Your Name is one of the most moving I’ve seen of its kind. It’s probably my second favorite after Blue is the Warmest Color, which told of a high school girl and a college woman falling in lust and love. Both films capture what it’s like to be a teenager living in many worlds at once. Like Adele in Blue, Elio interacts with his friends on one level, his parents on another, while something more primal is happening to him on another front. Before meeting Emma, Adele lost her virginity to a classmate; before becoming entangled with Oliver, Elio loses his virginity to a local girl. Those disappointing initiations are soon forgotten when the teens find a better match in someone older and more intellectually rewarding. Both films end on heart-ache (Emma finds another woman; Oliver gets married), and the romance is handled so well that the ache lasts long after you’ve left the theater.
The critical acclaim for Call Me By Your Name is well earned. It’s one of the best films of 2017. Don’t let any moral tight-asses tell you otherwise.
Rating: 4 ½ stars.