Watching Call Me By Your Name, I was captivated, not by its lurid, nostalgic romance, but by that feeling of déjà vu that I could not shake off. Maybe it’s because queer cinema and literature has risen in mainstream prominence and acceptance (about time!), with Moonlight winning Best Picture in the 89th Academy Awards and CMBYN, Best Adapted Screenplay in the 90th Academy Awards. In these narratives are shared themes and connections—of sexuality, of fruit, and of foreignness, hence the déjà vu.
Sexuality here is best seen in many of these movies in perhaps the least sexual ways: swimming and biking. In CMBYN, youthful boys are buoyed in solitary bodies of water, riding bikes down deserted roads and indulging in fruit (also a running theme of queerness). The Dutch film Jongens (Boys) follows the relationship of two high school track teammates as they bike through forests, swim in rivers, and find themselves in the dune beaches of the Netherlands. The Brazilian film The Way He Looks recounts the relationship of a deaf high school student in Brazil and his relationship with the "new kid." The two sneak out for late night bike rides through the lush streets of their neighborhood and are constantly poolside. Other notable films with these motifs include the Flemish film North Sea Texas and the the Brazilian film Esteros. All of these films are adapted from books, which provide an even deeper understanding of the stories with room for the imagination to run wild. For example, CMBYN is a stunning book as is, apparently, Nooit gaat dit, the Flemish book which North Sea Texas is based off.
While the swimming/biking motif doesn't seemed to have origins on the page, another running theme is fruit, a metaphor for queerness, genitalia, and possible reclamation of the slur. There is, of course, that infamous peach scene in CMBYN, with Oliver biting into the fruit, the juices (among other liquids) seeping out. The motif of fruit also appears in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, an English novel about a young pentecostal girl who finds herself falling for another girl, and Rubyfruit Jungle, a novel about a poor, queer girl coming of age. More recently, fruit is prominent in the movie Tangerine, which details the story of trans sex workers adventuring in Hollywood. The novel Fried Green Tomatoes could also fit into this category (yes, tomatoes are a fruit!).
In these narratives, foreignness is part of genre. While CMBYN is an American film, the Italian setting and use of several spoken languages, links the film to the foreign and the unfamiliar. The umbrella term of foreignness also encompasses some of the most significant queer texts and films. Narrated by an incarcerated man, Our Lady of Flowers by French novelist Jean Genet tells of the story of the deceased drag queen, Divine. Not only is it celebrated as a LGBT text, it also influenced writers of the Beat Generation like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Additionally, the tradition of the lesbian pupil/teacher relationship has origins in both France and Germany, beginning with the French Novel, Claudine à l'école by Colette, the German film Girls in Uniform (Madchen in Uniform), and the French novel and adapted film, Olivia by Dorothy Bussy.
There are so many other narratives showcasing the themes of queerness, especially with the rising tide of works on queerness into the mainstream. While it may seem a breakthrough, the history of queer literature and media is rich. These suggestions barely scratch the surface of the serene, Italian pond that Elio and many others like him, are submerged in.