kevinyang’s review published on Letterboxd:
Why is it that in a film so enthralled by the concepts of love and passion, there is surprisingly little of both to be felt throughout? You can certainly see that love and passion play out on screen, but there's a difference between seeing and feeling. All the more power to those who have been able to do both for this film, to those who have found something to viscerally connect to. However, there's something glaringly missing for me, a huge disconnect between the supposed emotional foundation and the execution of the romance. The interactions between Elio and Oliver feel overwhelmingly physical, something that in theory should be completely fine because sexual maturation is an important element of the story (interestingly enough, Guadagnino seems to shy away from actually showing them having sex). In practice, though, there is simply very little depth that feeds into the physicality, probably because the interactions between the two never truly become elevated beyond the simple push and pull of surface level attraction. We get a lot of scenes between them, but not enough time with them, if that makes sense.
Without that emotional and deeply personal sense of depth, the dynamic becomes almost unfeeling, zapping the vitality from something that should feel exciting but fleeting but also everlasting. The repetitive, meandering nature of some of the scenes and the cursory nature of some of the others (why are the last few scenes they have together in the second half so short?) therefore become magnified as more of a negative than a positive, and the progression of the relationship only kind of works due to the committed work by Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer. They both give great performances, but it's difficult for me to believe in their characters' love. I never get a sense of the "why" and only a fuzzy sense of the "from where", and hey, maybe the characters don't really know either. But I need something beyond the carnal that allows this to move into more meaningful territory.
The film at least provides a sense of depth with the relationship between Elio and his father, which culminates in a beautiful Stuhlbarg-driven scene near the end. There's something profound in there about allowing yourself to simply live, to give yourself completely over to others and especially to yourself, to ensure that you don't allow anything to come between you and the connections that give you life. The film closes on a shot of deep reflection, a gorgeous image in and of itself; I just wish there were more weight behind that reflection.
The greatest elements of the film are, unsurprisingly, Sufjan Stevens' stunning contributions to the soundtrack. All of the songs, from a variation on "Futile Devices" to his new songs "Mystery of Love" and "Visions of Gideon", are perfect complements to the film, in fact providing (as Guadagnino emphasized during the Q&A) a uniting, narrative voice in place of voiceover. He is one of music's premier talents, and he taps into the heart of the film more than Guadagnino and his team ever do. His music is both soothing and heartbreakingly crushing. He captures the beautiful, breathless, fleeting nature of connection, the way it both facilitates and complicates transitional periods in life but remains steadfast in hearts and minds. "Oh, will wonders ever cease?" he asks. "Blessed be the mystery of love."
Better than The Space Between Us? Sure.