I have to admit, I havn’t explored director Luca Guadagnino’s work before. But I have read the book Call me By your Name, so watching the movie was something I was dreading. But imagine my surprise when I came across a movie that made me forget to actually compare it to the book. (that, never happens!)
Set ‘somewhere in Italy’ in 1983, for the initial first hour of the movie, I kept wondering what language the movie was in, and it made me realize how the first pre-conceived notion we have about any movie begins with the language. Italian means scenic yet European in its sensibilities, French might be sensual and American, brash. But Call me By your Name walks right past those barriers with its seamless navigation between Italian/English/French languages. Luca Guadagnino blends the sensibilities of North American and European independent cinema. The result is lyrical, accessible and one of 2017’s finest films.
To briefly sum it up, the movie is a story of a once-in-a-lifetime love between the 17-year-old Italian Elio and 20-something cocky American academic Oliver, played out over a brief six week period but recalled over and over for a lifetime. Love, being the keyword. Because there is nothing brash about this romance. Infact it is incredibly passionate yet equally tender in its nature, like most relationships are. Elio is the intelligent, charming son of archeology professor Samuel Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), with whom Oliver, a graduate student, is interning for the summer. Guadagnino’s film, based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, takes us through Elio and Oliver’s relationship, which develops haltingly at first but then burns and seeps into every pore of your skin.
Elio is someone desperate to take the growing-up process in his stride despite how scary it may be. Though he’s a teenager desperate for the approval of everyone around him, he has this vulnerability that he displays only occasionally. Timothy Chalamet portrays Elio who is genuinely aloof and cold at times. He is a teenager struggling to fit into the so called molds of the society by appearing cool and nonchalant when he really is not. It is so endearing to see his relationship with his mother, which has no barriers. It is sweet and raw and tender. He can cry in front of his mother and laugh and fall in love and hug her out of nowhere.
Armie Hammer, who could so easily be reduced to the part of a typically handsome Hollywood stand-in, is enthralling; he shifts between Oliver’s public brashness and private tenderness with ease, making his character far more than a simple object of desire. Oliver is the blazing embodiment of cocky self-confidence, and yet, there’s an endearing vulnerability in the way he needs for Elio to make the first move — setting the tempo for the deliciously tentative courtship dance between them.He’s flirty but tender—the couple’s love scenes are heartbreaking and intensely erotic all at once—and even though he’s the more experienced of the two, he can’t help but diving in headlong.
And lurking in the background is Stuhlbarg, wonderful as a knowing father who is content to mostly let his son figure things out by himself, but who steps in with a guiding hand when things get a little tougher.
Both intensely erotic and intensely contained, the movie acknowledges the very private lives gay men were forced to lead in the early 1980s, when the film is set. As a result, in Call Me by Your Name,virtually every bit of physical contact is crucial and electrifying. The way Elio and Oliver peel away each other’s layers has both a sweetness and a giddy thrill to it. The romance is complete with silent, unspoken understandings and messages that bounce around public space and crowded rooms full of oblivious straights. It’s about tension, desire, longing, rather than big events.
Guadagnino’s sensual attention to the textures and smells and intimate noises of Italian life builds out a cinematic world that encompasses his characters but is much greater than them.
Call Me by Your Name is an opulent, intoxicating experience for the body, but it’s also an arousal for the soul.The lazy European summer glows with nostalgic warmth, as the textured stock captures the haze of the beating sun and the azure blues of water and sky. Frames if you pause them can turn into paintings and the symbolism that remains heady yet firmly in the background, the aesthetics put a huge smile on my face.
I admire how the movie is not anything about the politics or the social aspect of gay romance. This isn’t a film about wrongdoing and punishment; it is about love, loss, and piercing joy in the context of a gay romance. We know (and Oliver and Elio and Elio’s parents know) that this gorgeous intoxicating generous romance can’t last forever, but in capturing the burn, Guadagnino makes us feel Elio’s desire, and thus his devastation. Every image practically drips with longing: a live fish someone’s trapped in the river, pages flapping in the hot breeze, water pouring from a tap into a stone pool, a table spread with breakfast arrangements, the smouldering end of a cigarette.
One of my favourite scenes is when Oliver pleading in a whisper to Elio, after they’ve finally slept together, for him to “call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.”. though a strange request it might seem, it is a direct reference to Plato’s Symposium and the theory of humans split in half, which we now call the origin story for Soulmates.
Another scene is one of the most beautiful monologues I have witnessed recently; in a surprisingly heart-warming conversation between Elio and his Father,the film offers this conversation as a gift to audiences who might have desperately needed to hear it in their own lives.
Note, You’ll want to stay all the way through the closing credits—that long, last image is so transfixing. I seriously don’t know how Chalamet pulled it off, but there is serious craft on display here.
Call my By Your Name is a swooning tale about the seismic power of first love—one that doesn’t dismiss Elio’s experience as a folly of youth, but instead digs into the unmistakable trace it leaves, for better or worse.