Call Me By Your Name, 2017.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, Vanda Capriolo, Antonio Rimoldi, Peter Spears, Andre Aciman, and Amira Casar.
A young man named Elio (Timothée Chalamet), living in Italy during the 1980s, meets Oliver (Armie Hammer), an academic who has come to stay at his parents’ villa as a student of Elio’s father, a professor. A passionate relationship develops between Elio and Oliver as they bond over their sexuality, their shared Jewish heritage, and the Italian landscape.
Come awards season, Call Me by Your Name will have its name known, although those that scoff and dismiss it as another gay romance or find themselves turned away due to its passionate but lovingly sexual relations between a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old (keep in mind, the age of consent in Italy is actually 14) are missing the point entirely. Similar to last year’s Best Picture winner Moonlight, this adaptation from booming director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash and the upcoming Suspiria remake) based on Andre Aciman’s novel of the same name, this is a coming-of-age story exploring one’s first experience with true love and sexual uncertainty, including the hypnotic pleasures of both physical and intellectual affection balanced against bittersweet heartbreak.
It’s hard to pinpoint what area Call Me by Your Name excels in most or to decide a single factor responsible for the film’s greatness. Instead, it’s a myriad of aspects forming together creating a whole that is sensually enthralling. I can’t say I find in-depth discussions about Jewish heritage or Italian archaeological discoveries or sophisticated pieces of music necessarily fascinating, but with the right actors and chemistry, any subject can come across enlightening. There is a joy in piecing together various double meanings throughout the numerous philosophical conversations taking place, and getting lost in the moment with Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver’s (Armie Hammer) mounting feelings of desire.
A disappointing amount of love stories are unable to replicate believable romance, falling back on additional layers of an already stretched narrative whereas Call Me by Your Name fakes absolutely nothing, trusting the daring performances from Timothée Chalamet (a breakthrough and Oscar-worthy turn if there ever was one, reservedly juggling new feelings as he navigates the map of his true self) and Armie Hammer (good-looking yet mentally stimulating, in some ways just as clueless). It isn’t afraid to build both friendship and romance through extended dialogue exchanges conducted with ravishing long-takes (simultaneously capturing exotic historical landmarks of Italy, or lighter yet equally beautiful touches ranging from architectural swimming pools to peaceful lakes and even quiet hills fit for personal confessions and physical advances.
The soundtrack also does a great job of heightening the hazy mood, complete with era-appropriate 1980s dance tracks and romantic ballads. There also three songs recorded for the picture by electronic singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens; realistically speaking, one of them has to win an Oscar. It isn’t just the licensed soundtrack, as original classical compositions (that once again resemble everything Italy evokes and represents) concocted in collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto add more beauty to the proceedings. Even the additional piano lessons for Timothée Chalamet paid off; it’s a sonic experience just as much as it as a visual one. Dancing from Armie Hammer under neon lights surrounded by gorgeous Italian buildings, photographed by celebrated cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is another highlight in a movie overstuffed with sensual delight.
Simmering love is a bumpy ride for the pair, noted with hesitation from each individual on different instances. This is a forbidden love, and one that Elio’s father played by Michael Stuhlbarg addresses with an incredibly moving speech that sums up one too many truths about romantic emotions. He doesn’t have much screen time as the film is rightfully·centered on Elio, but it’s an unforgettable piece of advice delivered with Oscar-worthy prose. Then the actual ending comes and wrecks even the sturdiest of hearts, in the process elevating the gravitas and importance of every scene that came before.
Not that it should matter if it’s explicit or not, but Call Me by Your Name is restrained as far as depicting sexual content goes. Yes, the much talked about (from anyone that has ever read the book) peach scene is here, but the direction for physical affection is more focused on touching or subtle implications such as the two wearing each other’s swimming trunks. Again, the romance is genuine, leaving audiences wanting to savor every moment the pair can be together, doubly so as time runs out (Oliver is only visiting for the summer).
There are already talks from Luca Guadagnino regarding planning a sequel to Call Me by Your Name, to which I’m all for. This is pure, coming-of-age cinema magic with soul-stirringly intimate performances from Chalamet and Hammer. What they have is indeed special, and should not be relegated as an experience that only gay or bisexual people can relate, but rather a guide for all of us finding ourselves. There’s one more thing Call Me by Your Name has in common with Moonlight; both are deserving of Best Picture.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com