Contemporary Review / Review

Call Me By Your Name

by Michaela Jackson

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Cinema has cunning ways of delivering people what they didn’t know they wanted, but what their souls unconsciously very much needed. 2017 was an especially wonderful year for film. We were shown contemporary stories that were crucial for offering some sort of lifeline amidst the chaos of the modern world and nostalgic period pieces that made us realize how much we’ve grown as a society, and the work that still needs to be done.  An Oscar nominee for Best Picture this year, Call Me by Your Name truly is a film that produces a cascade of emotions within those who watch it that don’t cease to ebb and flow even days after watching the film. This romantic coming-of-age drama, set in 1983 in Crema, Italy, provides the kind of escapism, hope, and raw humanity our current cultural climate needs right now.

Call Me by Your Name is directed by acclaimed Italian director, Luca Guadagnino, whose previous works include his Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe-nominated debut, The Protagonists; the cult hit and first installment of Guadagnino’s thematic Desire trilogy, I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, the second installment of the Desire trilogy. Call Me by Your Name is the third installment in that series of films. The film is based upon the eponymous, well-received Andre Aciman novel; its Oscar-nominated screenplay was adapted by James Ivory. The film focuses on the all-consuming, transcendent romance that blossoms between Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet), a 17-year old musically-inclined, introspective and precocious Jewish Italian-American teenager,   and Oliver (Armie Hammer), a self-assured, charismatic 24-year old Jewish-American graduate student. . The supporting cast consists of Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) as  Elio’s father, Amira Casar (The Forbidden Room) as Elio’s mother, and Esther Garrel (Lover for A Day) as Marzia, Elio’s lifelong friend and brief lover. The cast of Call Me By Your Name has been widely lauded for their performances, especially Chalamet, who has recently been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Hammer who were both nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. The film was shot in 35mm and filmed on location in northern Italy in the stunning, historically-rich city of Crema. This film has been regarded as a “labor of love” by everyone involved due to it being more a passion project.

Dancing, reading, swimming, listening to music, and biking: the only activities one can partake in to stave off boredom in Crema, a quaint, classically Mediterranean city with dreamy landscape upon dreamy landscape. The film opens with Oliver arriving at the Perlman’s residence on a warm, Italian summer’s day in 1983 to stay with them for six weeks to work alongside Mr. Perlman, renowned archaeology professor. Oliver is seemingly very confident and secure, and has a magnetic personality that draws everyone to him. Everyone except Elio who finds Oliver to be extremely standoffish and aloof  due to his nonchalance and slight dismissal of Elio. Oliver and Elio share mutual admiration, respect, and intense attraction for one another unbeknownst to the two of them due to their inability to emotionally articulate and their uncertainty over the other person’s feelings. Elio and Oliver both have female love interests initially, but it becomes clear these interests are fleeting and provide both individuals with sexual gratification and catharsis rather than true love and fulfillment. Elio eventually musters up the courage to confess to Oliver his growing attraction to him, which Oliver reciprocates, but is hesitant to bring a relationship to fruition because this is uncharted territory for both. Elio eventually breaks Oliver’s resolve with a kiss that serves as the catalyst for an all-encapsulating, transcendent romance devoid of cynicism and fear. The spiritual and romantic entanglement aids in self-discovery and liberation of spirit and desire in both individuals. Via understanding and empathizing with one another, skillfully represented by interchanging each other’s names, these individuals who had unknowingly been missing a part of themselves up until this point, discover the long-sought after piece in each other.

Every individual in this film acts with such passion and conviction, you would assume their life depended on it. Call Me by Your Name is more quiet and contemplative than it is boisterous due to both Oliver and Elio being shy, introspective individuals who are incredibly, almost infuriatingly, reticent. The physicality of the acting of Hammer and Chalamet is often more indicative of their feelings and thoughts than the natural and refreshing dialogue they engage in. So much of Call Me by Your Name is silent and patient. The inability to articulate, on the part of Elio especially, is a central motif throughout the film and is best exemplified by Elio asking Oliver, “Why didn’t you give me a sign?” The characters couldn’t communicate how they truly felt and so resorted to utilizing physicality solely. This type of acting doesn’t grace the screen that often and so a movie with this much silence is appreciated.  The use of non-diegetic/off-screen sound and music is emblematic of the character’s internal monologue. Music performed by Sufjan Stevens, including the recently Oscar-nominated, “Mystery of Love,” serves to beautifully score the romance between Elio and Oliver to compensate for their view of words being “futile devices” at times. Other songs within the film serve to establish the ambiance of the 1980s in regard to what was popular on the radio at that time, thus making the film an effective period piece as well. The piano instrumentals interspersed throughout the film are emblematic of Elio’s artistic inclinations and mental blockades both the men overcome as they discover themselves as well as the Perlman’s sophistication and investment in art. Under Guadagnino’s direction and bolstered by the insanely potent, electric chemistry between Hammer and Chalamet, this love story is truly one of the most poignant, sensual, liberating, enthralling ones to be ever put to film. Chalamet’s performance is show-stopping — a relevation, executed so vulnerably and affectingly. Chalamet and other young male actors, such as Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick),  have truly redefined the schema or expectation for the “leading man” in Hollywood. Hammer delivers his best performance to date, effortlessly charming his way through the film and impressively nailing all of the nuances of Oliver’s character. Chalamet and Hammer are a dynamic duo to say the least, watching them interact with one another on the screen is like watching a balanced, ornate, and intense dance in action; they bring out the absolute best in each other as performers.

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The stunning visuals present in every meticulously crafted frame of Call Me by Your Name are extremely physically arresting, not for solely superficial or stylistic reasons.  So many aspects of the film lent themselves to creating an incredibly realistic, palpable universe that the viewer felt they were inside. The cinematography, which was indubitably some of the best in all of 2017, was managed by respected Thai cinematographer, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Regardless of where the characters were, their surroundings and backgrounds were carefully constructed and most of the shots within the film, besides close-up shots  were shot in closed form. The closed form inclines toward self-conscious design and gives the viewer the impression that, within each frame, exists a self-sufficient universe that encloses all necessary information. Throughout the film, attention is never directed to anything outside the immediate frame. Many shots within the film are long shots, as represented by the nature of Crema and Rome: wilderness, woods, waterfalls,  and buildings. Aerial and tracking shots truly enable the sequences to flow seamlessly and effortlessly, thus maintaining the sense of coherence, continuity, realism and the organic nature of interactions, especially those between Elio and Oliver. Rack focus/deep focus shots in which only Elio and Oliver are in a densely populated frame, but one of them is blurred, serve to subtly indicate them actively thinking of and appreciating one another. The set design almost exclusively illuminated by natural, available light, as opposed to artificial light, and populated by rustic, historical buildings, simple furnishings, vegetation and wide-open space for miles, among other components, is very true to the era the film is set in. One would not mind living, and to be slightly morbid, dying within this film solely due to the mesmerizing natural landscapes of Crema and the beyond aesthetically pleasing set-design. The costume design is extremely well done and very accurate to the fashion trends and artistic inclinations of the 1980s; not a single element of the set or costume design feels anachronistic or overly contrived.

This celebration and exploration of pure, all-consuming love in a time of political and social turmoil is the kind of escapism and reminder of the fundamentals of humanity the world needs right now. This film is culturally significant for a multitude of reasons. Call Me by Your Name doesn’t have a central antagonist, nor a single, malevolent oppressor keeping the two lovers from being with one another, which isn’t all too common.  By showcasing a love devoid of cynicism and the tragedy that is so often present in films about gay youth, these characters are allowed to be themselves and love without restriction. The only elements operating on them are situational characteristics such as time, circumstance, and society. What makes this film beautiful is its sense of fluidity, the portrayal of the romance between the two leads is fundamentally an exploration of love between two humans and could just as easily be defined as gay film as it could a bisexual film or a northern Italian film or a coming-of-age film. Guadagnino has created a piece of art that enables the audience to attribute their own meaning and interpretation to it. This film is most important because of its representation of the LGBTQIA+ community and especially its representation of bisexual males, which are something of a rarity in cinema. We definitely need more films representative of this community in Hollywood because they are sorely and offensively underrepresented in many forms of media. Call Me by Your Name is indubitably of the same caliber of masterpieces such as Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight. This film is especially impactful for LGBTQIA+ youth most notably due to a gorgeous, heartbreaking, compassionate speech said by Mr. Perlman to Elio that embodies pure acceptance and parental love, everything every young person wants to hear and everything a young person should hear. Mr. Perlman is the absolute ideal parent—a perfect parent, and without a doubt will impact how every person who watches this film will parent their children from now on.

Call Me by Your Name is a tour-de-force, it is a revelation, it is a profoundly resonating experience. I guarantee that days, weeks, perhaps even months after watching this film, you will still be thinking about it. Call this film by its true name: a masterpiece.

5 out of 5 stars

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