At the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, a feature titled Call Me By Your Name premiered to rave reviews, critical acclaim and a touch of controversy. The indie film, which comes out in Australia today, is a queer love story set in rural Italy, about a 17-year-old falling in love with a 24-year-old. It’s not a particularly explicit film; the sexuality is more implied than graphic. Having said that, there’s an unforgettable scene that involves a young man masturbating with a peach.
Call Me By Your Name is an adaptation of a novel by André Aciman, and the peach masturbation scene was one that director Luca Guadagnino wasn’t sure how to approach. “I was tempted to remove it from the script,” he told Out Magazine. “In the book, it is so strong and explicit that I thought it was a metaphor, something that couldn’t exist in real life.” But, as a director who takes his art seriously, Guadagnino decided to do some gonzo research: he took the most pragmatic approach he could think of and fucked a peach.
At the time there was still some uncertainty on set about whether the scene was going to remain in the film. When Guadagnino told Timothée Chalamet – the young star who would be acting it out – what he’d done with the peach, Chalamet confessed he’d been doing some research of his own. “I went to Timothée and said, ‘We shoot the scene, because I tried it and it worked.’ And he said, ‘I tried, too, and I already knew it worked.’”
This level of method acting, or method directing in Guadagnino’s case, is reflective of how immersive and authentic indie cinema can be. It was a real eye-opener for the other lead, Armie Hammer, who’s previously starred in big blockbuster films such as The Social Network, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Lone Ranger. Hammer, who’s actually a straight dude with a couple of kids, said Call Me By Your Name challenged him in ways he hadn’t previously experienced. “I knew it was going to be a project that would push me and require a lot more from me than I really have to give,” he told IndieWire. “You’re not standing in front of green screen, you’re not doing some big action, you’re not doing some big stunt. It’s two people being incredibly naked and vulnerable with each other, literally and emotionally, on camera. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this as an actor.’”
Hammer only agreed to the role after personally bonding with Guadagnino, who became a sort of mentor. The two had conversations about how “fear and desire are really part and parcel of the same thing,” and Hammer decided he was up for the challenge: “I realised that if I’m going to commit myself to being an artist and making movies for the rest of my life then I need to find things that push and challenge me.”
While the film obviously challenged Hammer’s personal boundaries, you get the sense it was designed to push the limits of society’s boundaries on sexual freedom, too. James Woods, a 70-year-old conservative actor, attacked the movie on Twitter, accusing it of, “quietly chipping away the last barriers of decency.” But pushing boundaries is a big part of the film’s appeal. During the scene with the peach, the younger man questions himself, “I’m sick, aren’t I?” His lover replies, “You’re not sick. I wish everyone was as sick as you.”