Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Written by James Ivory
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Elio is the son of academics living in northern Italy. He spends his days consuming books and composing piano pieces. He is also in friendship with local girl Marzia where the beginnings of attraction are forming. Summer looks to be a monotonous season until Oliver arrives. Oliver is an American doctoral student who has come to get the aid of Elio’s father in revising his dissertation. Elio finds himself drawn to Oliver and even feeling pangs of jealousy when it appears the older man fancies a woman in town. As Elio explores and discovers himself in this formative year, he becomes aware of his feelings for Oliver. First, with some anger, he tries to push them aside, and finally, he confesses all of this to Oliver who reciprocates.
Luca Guadagnino came into my purview with the stunning I Am Love. I can’t say I have sought out his work with ravenous hunger, but I was deeply affected by I Am Love. I can’t imagine anyone who saw that film ever forgetting its final heart-wrenching moments. This is all to say I was not actively looking out for more of his pictures. Other movies made themselves more apparent, and I didn’t even know about this particular film until Oscar buzz came around. I am incredibly happy I have seen it.
Call Me By Your Name is a film that immediately finds its way into the canon romantic of cinema with its final frame. There are a lot of movies that have been made that attempt to translate the experience of first love and subsequent heartbreak on screen. The majority have never fully succeeded in recreating that experience palpably, that is until this picture. The nervous anger of Elio, followed by heady submission to love and ending in bittersweet tear-stained memories by the fireplace resonate with the pure emotion of life. This is aided by the sumptuous cinematography of a landscape that evokes love and sensuality. The village Elio and his family are a part of, and their home’s estate is verdant and lush. The possibility of life vibrates in such places.
The story of Call Me By Your Name is less concerned with plot as it is the characters’ experiences, sensory and of the heart. The narrative unfolds lazily, in much the same way barefoot and shirtless Elio meanders through the terracotta tiled hallways of his house and through the apricot orchards nearby. Timothée Chalamet has a been a presence in cinema for some years, with audiences likely recognizing him from a supporting part in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. It is under Guadagnino’s guiding hand that this remarkable actor has experienced his unveiling. He imbues Elio with the sort of brash adolescent arrogance that at first pushes us away but is slowly revealed as a buffer for the stir of volatile emotions and feelings.
Armie Hammer has made himself known on screen with his breakout in David Fincher’s Facebook opus The Social Network. I admit I’ve never found myself too drawn to Hammer’s work. He possesses the square-jawed good looks of a dime a dozen Hollywood actors. I’d never seen him in any performance of emotional depth, he always did an excellent job though. Like Chalamet, though, we are witnessing the transformation of an actor, moving to a whole new level of their craft. Hammer capitalizes on his preconceived American-ness in the character of Oliver who is remarked on as being rude in the way is continuously and casually rushing off from place to place. Elio is astonished to find on Oliver’s second day he has already networked and made friends with the old men playing cards in a village bar.
Working in the background as always is the underappreciated Michael Stuhlbarg. Stuhlbarg is doing similar phenomenal work in del Toro’s The Shape of Water. He becomes a figure of frantic paranoia that film, but here, he is gentle and delicate in how he speaks. His final speech to Elio on the nature of love and the embrace of suffering and heartbreak is one of the great dialogues on the subject in cinema. There is a sense of his own experiences buried beneath the words, never spoken. There is also the fear of a father, not that his son is gay, but that his son might interpret this pain as a signal to never love again. He makes very clear to Elio that love is fleeting, yet precious.
Call Me By Your Name is a masterpiece of cinema. For myself, what makes a film is a masterpiece is that it so captures a particular filmmaker’s sense of rhythm and character. Guadagnino is in perfect harmony with both his subjects and his environment so that you cannot imagine this story happening to any two other people in any different locale. In the final moments of the film, as Sufjan Steven’s haunting “Visions of Gideon” plays, Elio is called by his mother to the table. For a brief second, he looks up from his painful rememberings, stops crying and looks at us in the eye. He is showing that original defiance from early in the picture, only this time it is a statement that he will live in the pain of love lost, yet continue to seek love yet discovered.