Practice what you preach

by Kleitia Vaso

I anticipated watching Call me by your name, a statement that rings commonplace but actually evokes a state that is no longer easy to attain. Having watched my fair share of films and being in a stage of my life where reality is of greater interest than any fictional world, the feeling of actually waiting for a movie as a child waits for a toy or any one of us for a call or a message has become difficult to come by. Yet, once in a while, the combination of a story – preferably a love story – an author, certain actors, a director, the location re-creates the simultaneous deliciousness and frustration that characterize the waiting period.

Despite my great curiosity, I expected something pleasant but nothing extraordinary. The director’s other films had satisfied my senses but left my emotions cold. I remember beautiful clothes and houses but the stories escape me. I had a similar experience with the author of the novel on which the screenplay is based. He is a gifted writer and I remember many precise definitions of ambiguous and hard to capture emotional states but I wondered, at times, whether the clever definitions concealed a lack of depth. Consequently, I anticipated a beautiful movie catering to the senses but not necessarily a too profound or excessively involving experience. The one aspect that gave me the hope of viewing something unforeseen was the confused face of one of the leading actors during routine interviews. He seemed disoriented, still involved in the experience, reluctant to talk of the film as something now firmly lodged in his past.  His beautiful face betrayed a hint of accompanying confusion and pain. Throughout the answering of questions asked a thousand times, he seemed as though he was partially elsewhere.

On the fateful night, I was somewhat tense with excitement. From the very beginning, despite the film’s lush location and leisurely summery vibes, I was not at ease. I watched the entire movie without being able to relax. The film does not merely show the viewer a story but rather it makes you experience – either re-live or want to live - the palpable emotions of the two main characters. Just as gradually and naturally as they draw closer to one other, I grew absorbed in their world. Imperceptibly, within minutes, I had crossed the threshold dividing real life from the screen. At once, I lived through their emotions while my mind drew spontaneous comparisons to similar states and episodes, a fainter film playing beside the one on screen. There was nothing intellectual about this experience. I felt the emotion, I remembered it; the anticipation, the bitter temporary defeats, the frustration, the embarrassment, joy, and physical pain. I was moved by Elio’s physical response to falling in love: his bloody nose, his tears, his vomit, his desire for Oliver which is expansive enough to extend to everything else. A desire for the other, the world, and, in the end, himself.

His bleeding nose immediately reminded me of a boy I briefly met once who impressed me with his precociously collected and calm demeanor until a bright red stream flowing from his nose betrayed him. I felt again rather than simply remembered a motherly tenderness, inaccessible to me,  to that extent, until then. This scene led to others, memories of my own body’s betrayals, episodes of tears and afternoon sickness, feverish impatience, frozen muscles and stomach cramps. I thought of other people too, lip sores, unfortunate and untimely pimples, temporary paralysis and the like. I felt Elio’s unlimited and intense happiness, so intense that it quickly runs into fear and pain. I recognized Oliver’s experiencing of the end before it actually occurs. The end which seems like certain death. Or a certain kind of death.

After I finished watching it, although it was very late, I felt an agitation which I feared would prevent me from falling asleep. Which it didn’t. What calmed me was the comforting speech delivered by Elio’s father. He advises the boy to be grateful for feeling both the love and its ever-accompanying pain without attempting to evade the latter. Killing it artificially, the father suggests, would amount to self-mutilation, a numbing which would prevent further suffering alongside any other emotion, including happiness. I wholeheartedly agreed with him. For everything there is a season and great pain that follows great happiness can be equally transformative. Ultimately, to live is to feel. Lulled by this thought, I quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up as though I had drunk the night before. I didn’t feel sick but slightly disoriented, unsure of where I was, confused about the date, the day, the month, the year. It took me a while to revert to a somewhat normal state. During the day, scenes from the film kept playing in my mind, and I would smile embarrassed as though I had partaken in them. I kept experiencing flashes of the heightened state the characters were in, I saw their faces, their exact expressions, as though I was remembering a face from my own past. By afternoon, I was tired of it. I wanted to forget the film and reclaim my regular routine. I wanted to be numb. When articles with the actors’ faces appeared in the newsfeed, I quickly skipped them, unwilling to see their faces. I did not want to see scenes from the movie and even less did I want to hear the actors talk about the characters. I did not want to see their real lives, their real selves. They seemed less intense, less alive than their fictional counterparts.

I quickly realized that I would not re-watch this movie anytime soon. I feared re-entering its world. I did not want to feel less the second time around while also dreading that I would feel the same or even more. I simply wanted to forget. I wanted to continue my life, clear-headed, not plunged in a state of post-drunkenness and nostalgia when I was not the one who had been drinking.

Deciding to accelerate my recovery, I tried to think of other new movies, the release of which had interested me days ago. I could not think of a single one. I had lost my desire for all of them. Watching something less intense, less beautiful, less involving would only worsen the situation. I wanted to feel interest but I could not feign it yet. Days, maybe weeks after watching it, I was ready to experiment with a new film. It had received stellar reviews and I hoped it would lift me out of the mood in which I found myself immersed. I watched it almost hostilely, not laughing at its jokes, waiting for it to end. I did not hate it but I could not love it.

The discomfort has abated gradually. As it usually does. Slowly but on its own terms, despite my futile efforts of evading it, lessening it, replacing the film with something else. We never learn, I suppose, but life will teach us. I hope we have the stomachs for it,  loosen our muscles and overcome our fears because only through it we come closest to being the supreme version of ourselves. Even if only temporarily, although if  real and we can handle its consequences, the effects are long-lasting. By now, you can guess what happened between me and the movie if you have ever had the luck and courage to live through it.

I had fallen in love.

by Kleitia Vaso