Let’s talk about a twist on the “I understand you” scene: Call it the “I don’t understand you but I find that somewhat sexy” scene.
Both of our potential lovers are intellectual Jewish American young men enjoying a lazy summer in Italy, so they have a lot in common, but they’re also separated by temperament and age. They spend most of the movie circling each other and only get together late in the story.
Early on there’s a great scene where the older one, Oliver, begins to be smitten with the younger one, Elio, who plays a Bach composition on the guitar, and then, by request, plays it on the piano a few times.
- INT. LIVING ROOM - PERLMAN VILLA - DAY 15
- ELIO plays the piece on the piano. OLIVER leans on the door looking in. The music sounds very different from when he played it on his guitar.
- You changed it. What did you do to it? Is it Bach?
- I just played it the way Liszt would have played it if he’d jimmied around with it.
- Just play it again, please!
- ELIO begins playing the piece again. OLIVER listens, then speaks:
- I can’t believe you changed it again.
- Not by much. That’s how Busoni would've played it if he’d altered Liszt’s version.
- Can’t you just play the Bach the way Bach wrote it?
- Bach never wrote it for guitar. In fact, we’re not even sure it’s Bach at all.
- OLIVER Forget I asked.
- Okay, okay. No need to get so worked up.
- ELIO begins to play the Bach in its original form. OLIVER, who had turned away, comes back to the door. ELIO says, softly, over his playing:
- ELIO (CONT’D)
- It’s young Bach, he dedicated it to his brother.
- He plays it beautifully, as if sending it to OLIVER as a gift.
Oliver isn’t just flirting, he’s genuinely frustrated by Elio’s intellectually-bratty explanations for the changes: He’s annoyed, but he’s also intrigued and bewitched. Elio is now a puzzle he wants to solve. Crucially, we feel the same way. Who would not be both repelled and attracted by this brilliant-but-arrogant kid? The best romances are those in which we can see and feel contradictory reasons for the romance to succeed and not succeed, along with the heroes.