CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel
Every year there are a few movies that feel special. They resonate and grab every emotion in you for their two hour run time and the days that follow as you think back to the characters and story you just took in. Call Me By Your Name is one of those making it one of the very best movies of 2017. For Elio (Chalamet), every summer entails going off to Northern Italy to his family estate. It’s 1983 so it’s a summer where you can truly get away in those days long before you were distracted by social media and a constant connection to the real world. He can lay by their pool, read a plethora of books, or go dancing with his friends. It’s this summer for Elio that will be the most eye-opening. Also spending the summer in Italy is Armie Hammer’s Oliver, a young, gorgeous doctorate student who happens to be the research assistant to Elio’s father (Stuhlbarg). There’s something about this new Adonis figure that catches the eye of Elio. It may be Oliver’s astute knowledge of architecture and music or those sharp physical features. Elio is enticed, but unsure what these feelings are.
It’s worth a reminder that this is Italy 1983, a time when it wasn’t socially acceptable to be out and open with your sexuality. LGBT labels weren’t easily attached to the feelings you were attributing toward someone. As the summer progresses, the women in the village fawn over Oliver all hoping to have their time with him. The sexual tension between he and Oliver cannot be ignored for too long with Elio openly expressing his feelings to Oliver. It’s a love affair kept in secret as they navigate uncharted territories within themselves in the limited time they have together as the summer starts to wind down.
Writer James Ivory is a bit of an icon in gay cinema with the Merchant Ivory films like Maurice, The Remains of the Day, and A Room with a View. At the age of 90, he shows no sign of retirement basing his script on the novel by André Aciman. There’s a dreamlike fantasy to this story of Elio’s summer of love. For some, it’s that summer away from your normal environment that allows for a freer and a welcome atmosphere for your sexuality to arouse in a different way than before. Let alone if it happens against an Italian backdrop that oozes with romanticism. The sensuality of falling for someone is perfectly captured by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography as the camera knows how to flirt with both actors. The sexual tension and heat between Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet exudes off the screen in a way I rarely see from an onscreen couple. Part of that is the open trust the actors have with how director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) showcases their bodies in the glistening summer heat.
We, the viewers, understand what’s happening between both characters and naturally want them to passionately hook up faster than the film allows. Part of the tension is that back and forth tug of war both Elio and Oliver have with their sexuality and the undetermined acknowledgment if their feelings are mutual. We see Elio trying to fight it given the societal pressures and lack of acceptance he may face with family and friends in 1983. He attempts to date a girl as a way to appease his parents and uses her to test the waters with Oliver. The scenes are awkward, yet realistic for someone in Elio’s transition.
Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird) is a huge star on the rise. He’s magnetic on screen and you can’t help but fall for him and understand every struggle his character goes through. It’s the kind of performance that isn’t showy or over-the-top, but one that needs constant adjustments. Elio lives and alters his outward persona on a daily basis depending on his surroundings, how open he wants to be to Oliver, and how truthful he wants to be with himself. Chalamet plays every note of Elio’s to perfection. It’s the kind of performance that can’t be done alone as so much of it rides on his chemistry with Armie Hammer. As Oliver, Hammer gives the best performance of his career since his breakout role in The Social Network. Hammer nails that outward confidence of Oliver’s that makes that character so rich and tantalizing. He’s never cocky or arrogant, but uses it to allure Elio at every turn. The story isn’t just about Elio and Oliver, but the role Elio’s father plays in this. He’s played by Michael Stuhlbarg, who also appears in The Shape of Water and The Post, and will make you weep in one of the film’s final moments. Saying any more would ruin his monologue.
Call Me By Your Name demonstrates that time is always present when it comes to how we deal with our sexuality. It’s about that precise time when you start noticing that shift in your sexuality. Someone comes into your life and forces you to deal with something that has lain dormant until now. Much like Elio, you don’t quite know if it’s affection or attraction or both. You then have to determine if that is the right time to give in to these feelings or brush them aside. Sometimes you don’t know that is was the right time until it’s too late as demonstrated with another character. Luca Guadagnino never rushes a beat in his direction of his actors. It may seem like the movie moves at a slower pace, but their story isn’t one that can be rushed at the beginning. The conflict rises knowing that the summer must come to an end. There are awkward, nervous ticks and subtle moments that crescendo into a smooth and graceful sexual encounter.
If you were moved by movies like Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight, and Carol, you will experience the same love and loss that comes with Call Me By Your Name. The score is reminiscent of some of Stephen Sondheim’s more moving piano works with some new Sufjan Stevens songs written for the film. It’s easy to get swept up in Elio and Oliver’s budding relationship as you can instantly feel yourself basking in that Italian getaway. It never plays it too safe including one particularly bizarre, yet memorable scene with Elio. By the end, it will hit you like a ton of bricks and sit with you for days.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Put this at the top of your list. It’s not to be missed in theaters.
RATING: 5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS