CREMA, ITALY — The love story of Elio and Oliver, the stars of the Oscar-nominated “Call Me By Your Name,” has reluctantly shined a spotlight on the small Italian city of Crema, bringing with it a new crop of love-struck travelers aching for fantasy and romance.
Tourism to the 35,000-population city has spiked — a trend that’s expected to continue as the weather heats up and the movie continues to garner attention.
Local tourism officials keep a book of the reasons why visitors come to the city, about an hour outside of Milan, and “Luca Guadagnino’s film” is now a common answer next to names from far off places.
“American boys, Chinese and Japanese boys, from Poland, Taiwan, Philippines, London and Paris,” explains Francesca Gnocchi, who helps promote the city.
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Despite international acclaim, the gay romance at the heart of the movie clashes with Italy’s more restrictive, conservative views on same-sex relationships.
“For our people, it’s too much sometimes,” Filippo Mazzola, 25, who grew up in Crema, said of the subject matter while praising its cinematography.
The film, set in the 1980s and based on a novel by André Aciman, tells the story of Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the son of a professor who falls in love with a graduate student named Oliver (Armie Hammer).
Aciman’s novel was set in a different seaside town but brought to Crema by Guadagnino, and has prompted an ongoing debate between those who praise the movie and a more conservative faction.
Though Italy legalized civil unions in 2016, it maintains deep Roman Catholic roots. It’s one of the few countries in Western Europe that does not recognize same-sex marriages, even if they took place in other countries in the European Union.
That did not stop tourists who visited during a freak snowstorm the first weekend in March from saying they could still feel the movie’s romantic glow.
Talisa Kiyiya, 19, from Amsterdam, hitchhiked into Crema from a vacation in Austria with Rita Friedli, 18.
The pair saw the movie together in January and couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“Last night we walked through the city center a bit. And even though it was snowing it felt like summer a little bit,” Kiyiya said.
“Call Me By Your Name” — up for best picture, actor (Chalamet), original song and screenplay at Sunday’s Academy Awards — is told amid a sensory banquet of summer sunshine, ripe peaches, chirping insects and cool dips in a river.
“Before they seduced each other they were seduced by the place,” said Beppe Severgnini, an award-winning journalist for Corriere della Serra, who can trace his family’s Crema roots back to 1502.
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Crema is a well-off area mixed with professionals who work in nearby cities or for the local cosmetics industry.
Andrea Alunni, the production manager for the film who lived in the city for close to 50 days, said that Guadagnino did not divulge the details of the story to locals who gathered to gawk at the influx of American movie stars.
Alunni acknowledged that Crema was not the “typical Italian city” drenched with sunlight, but praised the atmosphere and the villa outside of town where he helped shoot much of the movie last spring.
While the old-world charm of the city’s architecture may create the physical backdrop for the story, the people of Crema themselves also contributed to the final product.
Roberto Solci, a 55-year-old professor at a music conservatory in Vicenza, a two hour’s drive away, has chosen to live in the quiet city despite a career elsewhere.
He was tasked with teaching Chalamet to play Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Capriccio on the Departure of the Beloved Brother” on piano.
The song fills the air during the tense flirtation between Elio and Oliver as they fall for each other.
Solci also composed three different versions of the piece so that Chalamet — who practiced with him daily — could play it in three different styles on a 19th century forte piano.
“It’s a miracle. It’s not simple to learn at this level for five weeks. In the movie the sound is original Timothée,” Solci said, adding that the 22-year-old was a “brilliant” student.
The teacher thinks native New Yorker Chalamet should win the Oscar “not only for the piano but for the deep interpretation of the character.” Solci also expressed hopes for the Academy Award-nominated music by indie legend Sufjan Stevens.
It remains to be seen whether “Call Me By Your Name” will make it into the Hollywood history books, but it certainly plays a role in the future of another city halfway across the world.
“It’s a place with a name now rather than an unknown place,” said Friedli. She and Kiyiya hope to come back when the weather is warm.
Severgnini said he is impressed that Guadagnino, who is originally from Sicily, unearthed a new romantic aspect about his hometown by looking with an outsider’s eye.
Crema, he says, is “not the background of that film. Somehow it’s the main character.”
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