Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name ★★★★★

**Disclaimer: I’m writing this from the comfort (and safety) of my tub so forgive me if the following thoughts about the final film in Luca Guadagnino’s desire trilogy (his words, not mine) are full of messy tangents, colloquialisms, and/or plain old stupid ideas. A part of me thinks I should wait to write this informal review. I should wait until I feel less crushed and more critical, but another part of me — that part that’s already won — believes that if there’s going to be a movie to review on impulse, it should be a movie that is so much about impulse. Here we go. 

I first read Call Me By Your Name, the novel, in the winter of 2015. I fucking struggled. I had to put it down several times and remind myself that it was just a book, that the characters introduced — Elio (17) and Oliver (24) — were just characters, not extensions of my psyche. There was no osmosis, no moment where my thoughts had been intruded upon, magically transcribed to the page. This wasn’t about me. 

I should note that I have a warped way of relating to people, places, and things. This is part of being mentally ill! It’s something I work on daily! I am governed by obsessive behaviors and thought processes, often to the point where I have difficulty distinguishing between actual feeing and a culmination of all the mind games I play with myself over any given day, hour, five minute period. 

In the book there’s this game Elio begins to play. He starts to guess Oliver’s mood based on the swim trunks he’s wearing. This is a behavior that I recognized in myself, particularly in my earliest experiences with desiring a man. There was no truth to what I was thinking, but this is some of the things we do! The book is excruciatingly good at characterizing Elio as an anxious mess. A lot of it is attributed to a confusing, youthful, and ultimately first experience with same-sex desire, but a lot of it belongs to Elio. He overthinks and invents stories — that was difficult for me to read, difficult and perhaps not as on Earth as it could have been.

Guadagnino’s film, however, is more streamlined. There’s literally no time for Elio’s ruminations, which can feel tedious in the book. We don’t and can’t see his internal motivations. We don’t — wisely — get them in narration or exposition. Instead Guadagnino brilliantly relies on visuals to convey Elio’s desire for Oliver, which ultimately makes the film 1) better than the book, 2) more cathartic, 3) and allows for its themes on young love and desire to feel earned. Instead of several pages of obsessive wondering about Oliver’s bathing suits, Guadagnino gives us an effective montage of Oliver’s trunks drying over the tub faucet. From this we gather that they’re important enough for Elio to think about, but not important enough to be destroyed over. No one is being destroyed here! We’re all just living! 

Moreover, the destructive impulses I felt reading the novel are replaced with something more grounded. It’s in Chalamet’s and Hammer’s performances. A scene I’m particularly fond of is that first kiss. Guadagnino has been testing our patience, but finally desire boils over. The two men are laying in a field and Oliver can’t help himself. He can’t help himself but it’s Elio, naive Elio, who leans in and licks his mouth. Even the most inexperienced lover knows, impulsively, what he wants. Elio wants to be with Oliver, but he also wants to mold into him, become him. He wants to wear his shirt and smell his shorts and climb on top of him. He wants Oliver to call him Oliver. 

It’s also in Guadagnino’s direction. He creates a sort of utopia out of “somewhere in northern Italy,” and still shots of landscapes complement other, more profound moments: what goes on in the bedrooms, doorways, etc. He doesn’t move his camera much, but he doesn’t need to! Everything that will happen will happen in a single, unmanipulated frame. Elio will climb onto Oliver. Elio will watch Oliver pee. The two men will exchange glances on a dance floor. Life and love feel like forever, feel trapped in these frames, but they move quickly. 

Anyway, this is a simple film, chatty and gorgeous and thoughtful in a way that made me think of Rohmer, but about an epic albeit short-lived gay romance. By the end of it I wanted to start wearing my Star of David again, something Elio begins to do after he notices Oliver wear one. For Oliver it marks him as an outsider. For Elio it marks him as part of Oliver. For me it’s a little bit of both. Everyone wants to be alone in something with someone!

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