Call Me by Your Name, tale of gay love in Italy, nominated for four Oscars

Call Me by Your Name, a film telling the story of a gay romance in the northern Italian countryside, has been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture.

Call Me by Your Name, tale of gay love in Italy, nominated for four Oscars
Luca Guadagnino, the Italian director of Call Me by Your Name. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP

The English-language film, based on a novel by Egyptian-American author André Aciman, was written by James Ivory – of Merchant Ivory fame – and directed by an Italian, Luca Guadagnino. 

It is nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as Best Actor for its young lead, Timothée Chalamet, and Best Original Song for Mystery of Love by Sufjan Stevens, who wrote three songs for the film. 

Shot on location in Crema, Lombardy, the film tells the story of Elio, a 17-year-old American boy living with his parents in northern Italy, who has a summer romance with Oliver, a grad student who comes to work with his academic father. 

It stars a cast of American, French and Italian actors. 

Its Sicilian-born director is best known for I Am Love, a 2010 family drama starring Tilda Swinton as the English wife of a Milan businessman. 

His film's nomination is the closest Italy will get to the Oscars this year: its entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category, A Ciambra, did not make the shortlist. 

The only other Italian presence at the 90th Academy Awards is Alessandra Querzola, a set designer nominated for her work on the Hollywood sci-fi sequel Blade Runner 2049.

Most Italians won't be watching the ceremony anyhow: the winners will be announced on March 4th – the same day as the Italian election.


Why Italian cinema is starting to glamorize the mafia

For years it was only American filmmakers who glorified mafiosi, while Italian cinema showed the grittier reality of organized crime. Now that's starting to change. Italian film expert Dana Renga traces the shift.

Why Italian cinema is starting to glamorize the mafia
'The Traitor', a recent mafia drama that caused controversy in Italy. Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

For almost a century, American filmmakers have glamorized the mafia, depicting their ranks as so charismatic and quick-witted that you might want to invite them over for dinner.

Audiences saw this most recently in 'The Irishman', which reunites a star cast of the usual suspects – Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci – but also in 'The Sopranos' and 'Boardwalk Empire'.

The mafia’s glamorized sheen in America’s collective conscience might be due to the fact that the mafia never attained much power in the US. Compared with Italy, fewer lives have been lost and fewer businesses destroyed by the organized crime syndicate. Today many see the mafia as a relic of the past.

Not so in Italy, where mafias remain as powerful and dangerous as ever.


Their menace has been reflected in Italian films and television series, which have long cast mobsters in a negative light.

But as someone who studies media depictions of the mafia, I’ve noticed a shift: Italian films and TV shows have started to glorify criminality, crafting and portraying mafiosos as alluring antiheroes.

In Italy, a break from tradition

It’s long been common practice in Hollywood to cast conventionally attractive actors as sympathetic criminal antiheroes. Humphrey Bogart in 'King of the Underworld', Al Pacino in 'The Godfather' trilogy and Denzel Washington in 'American Gangster' are just a few examples.

However, this practice is a relatively new phenomenon in Italy.

In Italian films from the 1960s and 1970s, Italian gangsters were depicted as shady and charmless.

In the popular Italian mafia biopics of the 1990s and 2000s, which included titles like 'One Hundred Steps' and 'Placido Rizzotto', they appeared as vicious, repulsive villains.

But that started to change in the 21st century. In 2005, director Michele Placido released 'Romanzo Criminale', a film about the Roman mafia that featured a cast of young, attractive mobsters.

More recently, good-looking, sympathetic criminals abound in the TV series 'Gomorrah', while slick, teenaged gangsters populate Claudio Giovannesi’s 2019 film 'Piranhas'.

A controversial portrayal

Marco Bellocchio’s most recent film, 'The Traitor', epitomizes this trend. Released in the US on January 31st, it was also Italy’s submission for Best International Feature Film in the Academy Awards.

At its centre is an ex-mobster named Tommaso Buscetta, played by the attractive Pierfrancesco Favino, sometimes known as “the Italian George Clooney”.

READ ALSO: The Traitor: True story of mafia informant is Italy's entry for the Oscars

The film tells the true story of Buscetta, who shared vital information about the inner workings of the mafia with Italian authorities in the early 1980s. His revelations sparked the “maxi trials”, which ended in 1987 and led to 342 convictions.

Buscetta, however, is viewed with suspicion by many Italians. To this day, his motivations for turning over evidence to the state are cloaked in mystery. In Italy, he’s hardly viewed as an ambassador for the anti-mafia cause. Nonetheless, 'The Traitor' turns him into an alluring antihero.

For these reasons, some Italians weren’t happy about this portrayal. It also didn’t help that the film was released on the anniversary of a mafia rampage that killed an anti-mafia prosecutor, his wife and their bodyguard.

Follow the money

These films and series are popular inside and outside of Italy; 'Gomorrah', for example, is distributed in over 190 countries.

Within Italy, however, protests against these films and series are commonplace. Many Italians are uncomfortable with the way they depict organized crime with characters who are charming and easy to like. Some of the loudest objections come from people who have lost loved ones to the mafia.

For example, the mayor of Naples claimed that 'Gomorrah' corrodes “the brains, minds and hearts of hundreds of young people”, while one judge accused the series’ creators of “excessively humanizing crime”.


However, the success of American TV series like 'The Sopranos' conveyed an important lesson to Italian writers and producers: you don’t have to be a good guy to captivate audiences outside of Italy.

So for the last 15 years, Italian film and television producers have become famous by presenting organized crime in ways that are an anathema for many Italians, but find eager viewers around the world.

Dana Renga, Associate Professor of Italian Studies and Film, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.