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VIFF 2020 Review: Call Me Human (Je m’appelle humain)

Call Me Human is an intimate look at Innu poet Josephine Bacon and her past and present life that makes for her poetry.

I’m glad I started my last day of the VIFF watching the documentary Call Me Human. I never knew of poet Josephine Bacon until I saw it. I’m glad I did.

The film is an intimate look at poet Josephine Bacon. It’s also a look at the friendship between her and the documentary’s director Kim O’Bomsawin. She was born in Innu territory in Pessamit, Quebec. Like other Innu children in her community, she was forced to grow up in the Residential School system in Canada. It was there she endured the abuses and the pressures to abandon her culture and language. Her young adult years would mean trying to make a living. She’d escape her village to live in Montreal, sometimes sleeping with her friend in abandoned places. She would find work as a director and lyricist. She would work as a translator and interpreter with Elders and would listen to their words closely.

It wouldn’t be until after she turned 60 that she learned that she was a poet. She feels she’s not a poet. She feels she has a natural way of storytelling. Her first collection of poetry would not be published until 2009. It was in both French and Innu and it received renown for its importance of cultural preservation and storytelling. Bacon has continued to have poetry books published. She has won numerous literary awards such as the Prix des Libraires de Quebec, the Indigenous Voices Award, and the Order of Montreal.

The film is more than a biography. The film also features a lot of imagery of Josephine as she goes to various places. She’s often seen with other members of her Innu community. It is there she senses a culture whose traditions and ways of life are dying as the younger Innu are more modernized. She is seen looking out to the natural landscapes. It is in her and her culture that she has this feeling. She is seen at places of her past. It is there where she tells of her past history, both bad and good. She is seen over at a friend’s house for a dinner on Innu-cooked fish. It is there we see the life-long connections she established.

The intention of the film is not just to get us to learn who Josephine is, but to experience what it is that makes her poetry. We see Josephine in many dimensions. She calmly tells the stories of her life, but you can tell when heartbreak is in her, even when she doesn’t show it. We see her looking out to nature both with awe, admiration and sadness. She loves the beauty but she quietly hurts because it is stolen land. Her readings of her poems are done across a lot of imagery from landscape images to personal images to animation. Her poems may be in French or in Innu. All of which paint a picture of who Josephine is and how she finds her voice.

The appearance of the Innu ways is as important as Josephine’s use of the Innu language in some of her poems. Innu is a language spoken by only 10,000. The Innu ways were common before residential schooling tried to get children to abandon. Now the difficulty is modernism. There’s fear the traits and traditions will be lost. That’s why Josephine’s poems are so important. They keep the Innu language and the Innu ways of expression alive. That has a lot to do with why she has won so many awards. Those who see this documentary will be lucky to meet a gem of a talent.

Top respect goes to director Kim O’Bomsawin. Kim is not just the director of the film but comes across as a friend. She helps Josephine as she goes from place to place. She even helps with radio interviews, visiting friends and is there who Josephine accepts an award. Kim does an excellent job of showcasing Josephine’s poetic voice as well as the land that Josephine embraces and the traditions she tries to keep alive.

Call Me Human is more than a documentary about a Canadian poet. It’s also about a people and a way of life that was suppressed and oppressed at first but is now experiencing a revival thanks to people like Josephine.

Oscars 2017 Best Picture Review: Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By

Call Me By Your Name is the story of a son of a professor (played by Timothee Chalamet; right) who falls in love with an academic (played by Armie Hammer).

Call me by your name,

And I’ll call you by mine.

This year’s Best Picture nominees feature a wide variety of themes and subjects. Call Me By Your Name may get note about its gay subject matter, but it’s a lot more.

Elio is a 17 year-old American boy living with his father, a Jewish-American archaeology professor, and his Italian mother in his father’s summer getaway in Northern Italy in the summer of 1983. He has a passion for reading and is prodigious in playing the piano. During the summer, his father invites Oliver, a 24 year-old Jewish American graduate student, up for three months to help with his academic paperwork.

Elio’s first impressions of Oliver are not the best, especially since Elio has to give up his bedroom for him. He finds him arrogant, a show-off, and it annoys Elio when Oliver flirts with one of the local Italian girls he knows. Why should it matter to Elio? He has a girlfriend named Marzia.

However Elio and Oliver develop a friendship as the two spend a lot of time together. You don’t know if something’s happening between them or not. You’re tempted to think the latter as Elio is trying to get more sexual with Marzia and even talks about it at the dinner table. However it becomes obvious Elio is attracted to Oliver as Elio smells his swimsuit and masturbates. Elio makes the first move, but Oliver tells Elio he should not act on his feelings. Even a kiss at the post office doesn’t work on Oliver.

After being distant for a few days, Oliver gives Elio a note to meet him at a tree by midnight. The two kiss. The relationship grows more intimate and more sexual, but they have to keep it a secret, not knowing how their Jewish families will react. Meanwhile Marzia notices Elio has become more distant with her.

Then the time comes when Oliver’s stay is nearing its end. They don’t know what to do. The parents sense the relationship with them, but recommend the two spend a three-day trip in Bergamo. The trip eventually becomes their last intimate time together. Oliver leaves for the US and Elio returns home brokenhearted. Marzia gives him sympathy and agrees to stay friends and his father tells him he should be lucky because a true love like that is rare. A phone call from Oliver on Hanukah where Oliver discloses that he is to marry a woman, leaves Elio with mixed feelings over what should be but will never be.

The story is not as thick on the drama as the other Best Picture nominees. This is a story that simply unravels itself slowly and quietly. Nevertheless the events are consistent and they all fit within the story. This story bears a lot of similarities with Blue Is The Warmest Color where the protagonist is just becoming an adult and just learning of their same-sex attraction after believing they were hetero the whole time. Like Blue, the story is as much about the protagonist’s progression into adulthood and meeting their first same-sex love. Like Blue, the protagonist struggles with their same-sex attraction even as they pursue love with someone of the opposite sex. Also like Blue, it’s about a person of the same gender that sweeps them of their feet. Another element where it’s like Blue is that the story takes place along an artistic setting. While Blue is about Adele becoming infatuated with Emma through her paintings, it’s Elio becoming infatuated with Oliver in Northern Italy in an environment full of art: both natural and man-made. It’s also Oliver becoming infatuated with Elio through his readings and his piano playing. It’s a unique story how two young men– one who’s artistically-inclined and one who’s academically-inclined– both feel like polar opposites at the beginning, but come to love each other over time.

Another element in common with Blue is that it features a lot of elements one would commonly find in French films. We see how the imagery of the Northern Italian country side and even all the art and artifacts in the more urban areas play in with the story. We see how the elements of Oliver’s academia and Elio’s passion for the arts also help colorize the story and even heat up the romance. We also see the environment of the 1980’s and the music in the film adds to the story line. And we especially see how the theme of apricots plays into the romance. It goes from simple academia discussion to an element of their love. The film could have simply been titled Love And Apricots! Such background elements found here are common in French films as it helps provide a lot of value and background to the story and even the themes of the film.

However the biggest difference between Blue and Call Me By Your Name is that the story of Adele meeting Emma is more about meeting her first same-sex love and Emma being more like a chapter in Adele’s life. Call Me By Your Name is different because it’s a case where Olivier is more than Elio’s first same-sex love, Oliver becomes his soul-mate. The film is also a sad love story because it’s a case of what was meant to be can’t be. We don’t learn of the true divide of the two until the very end. While Mr. Perlman is supportive of Elio’s love to Oliver, Oliver has to marry as he knows his parents not only would disapprove, but send him to a psychiatrist for therapy. I won’t say the reason being because Oliver’s family’s Jewish, but more because the US in the early 1980’s was still very hostile towards homosexuality. That was it. Two soul mates from two different worlds that would face their big divide at the end.

The film is the accomplishment of the collaboration of director Luca Guadagnino and scriptwriter James Ivory. Both openly gay, they did a very good job of creating a story about meeting the love of one’s life and placing it in a glorious picturesque background that gives the story its charm and its feel. The film is also an accomplishment for young actor Timothee Chalamet. Most of the film revolved around Elio and Chalamet delivered an excellent job of a 17 year-old who learns of his sexuality through meeting the love of his life. That end scene where the film focuses on his face and his various emotions is as much the best part of Chalamet’s acting as it is a heartbreak for the audience to see.

Also excellent is the acting of Armie Hammer as Oliver. He portrays a man who first appears arrogant, but possesses an excellent gift of making his academia sound almost like poetry. It’s easy to see why Elio would be charmed to him. Also very good is Michael Stuhbarg. He first just appears in the movie simply as the father and a professor, but his characters fruition comes out at the end as he tells Elio of how happy he is Elio loved Oliver. The choreography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom was spot-on as it was the various camera angles and capturing the Italian beauty that was needed to make the story.

It’s funny how most people thought that Sherwin and Johnathan from the viral animated short In A Heartbeat were to be 2017’s top gay pair on film. Looks like Elio and Oliver overtook them in the end. They may not be as cute-as-a-button as Sherwin and Johnathan, but they are better at giving the romantic feel to their respective film.

Call Me By Your Name may be a gay-themed film, but it’s a lot more. It’s a film that will charm those who see it with its beauty and its story.