Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 film Call Me By Your Name quickly became a darling of independent, and LGBTQ+ cinema. The film won the hearts of many, even the suits at the Academy Awards, where it was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture. James Ivory, the screenwriter for the film, won in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay, scripting the film from the original novel written by André Aciman. It was a popular victory, and a deserving one – the novel is a poetic rhythm, an absolute joy of loose narrative flow, something that is not always easy to recreate on screen. Aciman’s sequel Find Me, published in 2019, offers a much more daunting task for any filmmaker trying to repeat the splendor of the first film.
Call Me By Your Name, produced by Sony Pictures Classics, sticks pretty close to the source material. Timothée Chalamet stars as seventeen-year-old Elio, a bored teenager summering with his parents in Northern Italy. Every year they come to the same place and are joined by a recent graduate who Elio’s father Samuel is helping to write their thesis. This year they are joined by twenty-five-year-old Oliver, a typical All-American, played by Armie Hammer, and soon Elio is distracted from writing music, trying to work out whether or not Oliver is showing any signs of attraction towards him. This cat and mouse insecurity transforms into a passionate whirlwind romance, that ends with Oliver returning to America at the end of the summer, leaving Elio behind.
There has been talk of a sequel since the film’s positive reception, audiences yearning to know if the two men ever reunite, after the crushing final moments, where Elio whimpers, gazing into a fireplace. There is also part of the first book that the adaptation leaves out, which is an end section where Elio visits Oliver in America fifteen years later. It all seemed set in stone, Guadagnino was coming back to direct, and Hammer and Chalamet were on board too. These plans fell apart, maybe due to the three of them being so busy in a post-Call Me by Your Name world, where Guadagnino prioritised his directorial efforts in behemoth horror Suspiria, and everyone wanted a piece of the leading men – Chalamet in Beautiful Boy, The King, and Little Women – and Hammer in Sorry to Bother You, Hotel Mumbai and the upcoming Rebecca remake. Although the literary sequel is published, gossip of a film sequel is yet to really raise its head, thanks to some interesting choices Aciman made.
Find Me is set in intermittent time periods after the events of the first book and is split into four major parts, titled in musical terms: Tempo, Cadenza, Capriccio, Da Capo. The first being from the perspective of Elio’s father Samuel, the second from Elio’s like the first book, the third being from Oliver’s perspective, and the fourth back to Elio. Each part is a story of its own – Samuel’s meeting of younger woman Miranda after his divorce, Elio’s meeting of older man Michel, and Oliver questioning his situation in life during a transitional dinner party. The history and the events of the first book is what links the three parts, acting as ghosts lingering in the background.
A lot of the fluidity from the first book is there, and it is certainly an easy read, but it is instantly noticeable how different Find Me is. It is by no means a bad novel, nor an unsatisfying sequel, it just lacks the kind of wise, tender prose that Call Me By Your Name is dripping with. The entire first novel appears as a moving voice of affection, and desire for a singular thing, orchestrated in a style that makes you question why you even bother to write when monumental work like this exists. Find Me does not quite reach those heights and is more purposeful as a revisit to characters that Aciman clearly enjoys spending time with.
The regimented structure is what gives the possible film sequel its initial technical problem to overcome, where it may struggle to keep the focus of the film tight, flickering from different perspectives. The first book and film were all Elio, allowing for a much more precise viewpoint and empathetic connection, his wants and needs were the guide for audiences of the first film. Imagine a sequel to a film that ended on that agonising final shot of Chalamet, suddenly opening with a long section following his father. This character in Call Me by Your Name is played wonderfully by Michael Stuhlbarg, who despite being studious and round around the edges, is very open and understanding of his son. One of the triumphant scenes in the film is where Stuhlbarg gives his “You had a beautiful friendship” speech, teaching his son to not be afraid of love, in whatever form it takes.
However in Find Me, Samuel comes across a little less waspy, and more like a distinguished, sexy, older professor, and so if the film were to be adapted, Stuhlbarg could be the first casting change. A post-divorce Samuel is melancholic, and desperate, instead of assured and content like Stuhlbarg’s Samuel in the film. This opening rests on thematical ideas of ageing and death, and a much bleaker, pragmatic view of the world, meaning the warm look to the first film would have to be replaced with something slightly grimmer. Guadagnino could still direct of course, he’s proven with Suspiria that he can tackle the cold and the miserable. Would he want it though? Would he want to progress to the other side of life, changing the legacy of the first film? It is the classic problem of any sequel really, to either re-do what worked before or try something different. Remaining optimistic, it’s obvious to say that Guadagnino is a good enough filmmaker, and Sony (if they produce again) have enough cash to squeeze something promising out of this precarious novelistic sequel. The real issue is whether they want to take the risk or not.
The lack of Elio is quite outstanding in Find Me, and the middle section told from his perspective is probably the weakest. His budding relationship with Michel is a little awkward, and their connection is not convincing. Naturally this coincides with the overarching push that Elio and Oliver are meant for each other, which is fine if you are happy with a baggy middle section in the film adaptation. The on-screen chemistry and comfort between Chalamet and Hammer were sublime, and in Find Me they are rarely together. It becomes about the memory of each other, that while apart they can still feel each other’s presence, which would be incredibly tricky to shoot. A hope would be that in a Find Me adaptation the director would be able to discover magic in the new relationships, to keep the electricity going until the reunion of Elio and Oliver. Chalamet could be too young to play an older Elio, whereas Hammer could certainly take on the role again with a fresh scene partner, and the long Samuel section could work with the right tone and right actress to take on the role of Miranda. It is tricky to speculate on casting, but even pondering on it for a few moments, it conjures up a film vastly different to Call Me By Your Name, almost a winter antidote of awkward love.
Ultimately this is where the filmmaker would have to diverge into something separate from Call Me by Your Name, or forget following Aciman’s text altogether and use only the last act of the first book as a guide. A reunion film may sound dull, but it could be the only way to not lose sight of the strengths of the first film. Perhaps this is why Find Me has faced mixed reviews, because of the almost complete abandonment of the central relationship for the majority of the book. It is an admirable effort, choosing to simply return to the world and its characters, rather than the driving force of a grander romantic plot, and it will leave any attempting screenwriter scratching their head. The conclusion to Elio and Oliver’s tale is not disappointing, and it is not greatly illuminating either. Enjoy the spectacular now, Call Me by Your Name’s aliveness, its skin to skin enchantment will be enough, and it will last forever. And so, if Find Me achieves anything, it’s that it has locked in Guadagnino’s film as an endearing friend to a special work of literature.