Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, adapted from the novel by André Aciman, is a luminous film about sensual awakening and first love. It is, easily, one of the most stunningly beautiful films I have seen this year. Finely drawn performances by Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet insure that Call Me By Your Name will remain in your mind long after you have left the theater.

It is the summer of 1983. Elio Perlman (Chalamet) is a seventeen-year-old American-Italian boy at his parents’ summer home in northern Italy. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a renowned professor of Greco-Roman studies, his mother (Amira Cesar) a translator. Their home is both cultured and academically stimulating, and Elio is clearly advanced for his age intellectually. Emotionally, he still has much to learn.

Professor Perlman looks forward to the arrival of his annual summer intern; Elio does not, as he must give up his room to the new arrival. As it turns out, Oliver (Armie Hammer), the intern, is confident and extremely handsome. Elio is both annoyed and fascinated by him. As the two spend more time together, they become aware of a growing attraction. Both attempt to hide their feelings, but denying the emotion simply makes it stronger.

The real breakout performance in this film that of Timothée Chalamet (Homeland). He does a remarkable job as the academically precocious Elio, who is flummoxed by his first real experiences with love. He knows what-and who-he wants, but also knows the dangers of speaking out about it. What is impressive here is how Chalamat communicates so much through silences and small gestures. If anything, the restraint of his delivery makes us feel his plight more keenly.

Armie Hammer burst onto the scene with The Social Network in 2010, but seemed to have trouble finding comparable roles. He has done good work in indies over the past year (Birth Of A Nation, Nocturnal Animals), but nothing that approaches his performance here. Hammer’s Oliver is brash, though with a gentler side that he takes care to conceal from most people.

Michael Stuhlbarg deserves praise for his understated portrayal of Professor Perlman. So does Esther Garrel, playing a longtime friend of Elio’s who wants to be something more.

In adapting Aciman’s novel, James Ivory has made a few key changes. Ivory has elected to move the story to 1983, whereas the novel takes place in 1987. This is certainly understandable. Having the story take place earlier mitigates the concern about long-term health consequences for Elio. Ivory leaves his focus on the affair between Oliver and Elio, while the novel depicts their lives for an additional twenty years. I think this omission is a good decision. As it is, Call Me By Your Name runs for 132 minutes. A coda would blunt the impact of the final scene without adding much value of its own.

The camerawork by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Uncle Boonmee) plays an integral part in the spell cast by this film. It depicts a world where even small details-tables laid out for breakfast, tree branches laden with fruit- are extraordinarily beautiful. In the hands of a lesser cinematographer, the Italian sun might be overwhelming. Mukdeeprom uses it to wonderful effect, setting and enhancing the dreamy mood.

Gary Gershmar and Robin Urdang add to the romance through their musical selections. The score includes works by John Adams, Bach, Ravel, and Satie, as well as two original songs by Sufjan Stevens.

Guadagnino has said he intends Call Me By Your Name to be the final film in a trilogy about love (with I Am Love and A Bigger Splash). In some ways, this third film echoes back to its predecessors. It combines the spectacular beauty of I Am Love with the pensive silences of A Bigger Splash. Then it does these films one better by adding the awkward elation of first love. Call Me By Your Name is a film you cannot help but take to your heart.

Theme: Forbidden Passion

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