I have a vivid memory of the region of Italy depicted in Call Me By Your Name. Though I was last there when I was 13, I can still remember the rolling hills, the soft, slow moving rivers and the ancient towns that seem to remain outside of the realm of history, outside of the movement of time itself. The summer sun was hot, and hardly ever was there a rainy day in Tuscany. It felt as if time moved slower there, as if every day was longer. I often wonder when I will return.
I guess that is what Call Me By Your Name first evoked for me. The film is directed by Luca Guadagnino, written by James Ivory and stars Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. It tells the story of Elio (Chalamet), who stays at his summer home with his family in Italy during the 1980s when arrives a summer guest, an academic named Oliver (Hammer). The film follows their relationship over the course of six weeks, and explores Elio’s discovery of his own sexuality, and his process of growing up. The story is one that unfolds carefully, and it takes its time getting to the major plot points. However, it never feels drawn out, and rather translates a vision of life playing out day by day. Ivory’s wonderful adaptation of the original novel has much to do with this. The film is also incredibly well paced, keeping the audience’s interest satiated with plentiful detail and character tension as each scene progresses. The layers of emotion that the plot brings out is wonderful to watch and contributes greatly to the calm and sensual feel of the film.
One of the most notable features of this film is the way the camera lingers throughout, drifting moment to moment, carefully choosing what to focus in on as the action plays out. This aspect manifests in different fashions: a shot of Elio sitting beneath a tree shot from a distance, a long take following him down a hallway and ending with him looking out of a verandah, a wide angle picture of Oliver and Elio swimming in a pristine river that reflects the sky like a mirror.
In this way every choice made in Call Me By Your Name feels purposeful and unique, each shot being different and yet complimentary to the last. In this sense, the portrayal of character desires and needs is particularly powerful. The film has a beautiful, warm glow, thanks to its expressive-yet-naturalistic lighting style and lens choices, making colors pop off a piece of clothing. Even when an actor looks in a particular direction, it feels incredibly expressive. However, to say that the power of this filmmaking is not tamed would be a lie. It is incredibly purposeful in the choices it makes, especially in the portrayal of homosexuality and sexual awakening. There was a lot of care put into the making of this film, and I really enjoyed this aspect overall.
The acting, meanwhile, is in a class of its own. Timothée Chalamet (who is currently nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards) and Armie Hammer have a spellbinding onscreen chemistry. Their interactions constitute the majority of the action, and they are the element of the film that truly binds the experience together in a meaningful and purposeful way. They both were so good that I stopped thinking of them as actors and could only see them as their characters. It was sublime. Even Michael Stuhlbarg, portraying the supporting role of Elio’s father, comes in at the end with one of the best monologues I’ve seen in a long time. Every actor approaches their character with such honesty and compassion. It really makes this film a treat to watch.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the soundtrack, which was partially arranged and contributed to by Sufjan Stevens. The original songs he wrote for Call Me By Your Name, “Mystery of Love” and “Visions on Gideon,” are not only well-written and beautiful. but are also incredibly well-used in the film. They add a sense of realistic magic that might not otherwise be present, and they perfectly match the film’s visual qualities. They’re also wonderful to listen to and I would highly recommend taking a listen to the songs on Spotify.
In short, this film is delightful to watch. It was pleasurable from an aesthetic standpoint and I hope to see it again soon. I’m giving this one an 8/10.