Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name ★★★★½

2017 Ranked

A glance. A look. A touch. A step. Every breathe. Every word. Every moment. “I remember everything.” For Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), their summer spent together in Italy is one that neither will ever forget. Giving into temptation, falling into one another’s arms, and caressing the other’s body in a fit of forbidden pleasure, the two become one for just a brief time before they must part. For Elio, his parents understand. For Oliver, he knows his parents would not. The two, nonetheless, go full bore into their romance and experience a lifetime of love in just a few brief months, but then they must part. Alongside many great romances that, similarly, must end due to societal pressures and life obligations - such as David Lean’s Brief Encounter - or romances that occur in an idyllic European locale between two people who may never see one another again - such as Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, namely Sunrise and Sunset - Call Me By Your Name stands tall. This is not just a rare film that explores bisexuality with nuance and understanding as Elio bounces between Oliver and Marzia (Esther Garrel) before choosing to follow his heart, but Call Me By Your Name is also noteworthy for being a film directed by a gay man and written by a gay man, allowing the film to ring with an authenticity and sense of discovery that makes the film all the more affecting.

As a coming of age film at its core, Call Me By Your Name obviously explores the tricky nature love during youth. For Elio, he may be 17, but he is rather inexperienced. His parents have clearly brought him up to be open sexually, as he comes right out and tells his dad he almost had sex with Marzia the night prior with his dad asking why he did not. His answer is quite youthful and boastful, naturally, but it is also quite revealing. This is a young man who is not just open sexually, but he is greatly inexperienced. His first time with Marzia is rather underwhelming, but his later encounters with both her and Oliver ring with the passion and earnestness of a young person who just discovered who he was as a person. His hesitancy to embrace this other side to him, however, is noted even by Oliver as he touches the bare shoulder of Elio during a volleyball game. Though Elio was watching Oliver’s chiseled physique from a distance, his sudden approach and gesture frightened him. Oliver noticed this, thus calling Marzia over to rub Elio’s shoulders in order to make him more comfortable. Yet, Elio cannot stop thinking about him. At a dance later on or just as he sits in his room with Oliver’s shorts next to him (or on his head), he cannot stop thinking about him. Yet, part of him is ashamed. Even after he has had some contact with him, his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) senses something off about him, attributing it to the gay couple who has come over to dinner with the Perlman family. Warning him to be kind and to not treat them poorly because of their lifestyle, it is clear that Elio has long repressed his bisexuality out of fear of rejection by either his parents or society. Thus, his trip into accepting this part of himself, overcoming his internalized homophobia, and just allowing himself to fall deeply in love with Oliver proves to be as great a journey as any of his young counterparts have had in a coming of age film.

Yet, even greater than this is the acceptance around him. This is a film that preaches not just understanding, but allowing yourself to live. Marzia fears being hurt by Elio, but embraces her feelings for him and then let’s him go once she realizes what he had with Oliver, as well as how deeply those emotions are felt by him. His father, in a terrific monologue for Michael Stuhlbarg, begs his son to not repress these feelings. Warning that numbing emotion will result in a person becoming a hollow shell by the age of 30 after killing every part of themselves - leaving them with nothing to give others - his father does not come out and say that he knows Elio and Oliver were intimate, but dances around it in such a way that signal he knows and accepts his son doing what makes him happy. His advice, as well as Marzia’s actions and kindness towards Elio, combine to allow Elio to feel how he wants to feel. He can love Oliver, but it does not mean he is gay. Or, maybe he is gay. That is something he can find out along the way, rather than rushing into labeling himself as anything. However, Call Me By Your Name is a film with only one agenda for the audience: to make you feel and allow yourself to feel. This romance can be fleeting, but it can still be felt. The film, as such, is one that prizes feeling. Everybody is open, willing to express themselves, and willing to open themselves to possibilities and trips that they never knew were possible. The film, for its part, may be to summer what Carol is to winter. Whereas Todd Haynes’ film feels like cuddling next to a warm fire on a cold winter night, Call Me By Your Name feels like going for a nice walk in the open country on a beautiful summer day with a light breeze and birds chirping in the distance. It is a film that is comfortable, makes the audience feel comfortable, and one that makes the audience want to drape themselves within the aesthetic. A lot of this is also due to the cinematography and production design, which both bathe this film into this warm, inviting feeling of Italy that is as sunny and beautiful as this romance proves to be over time. As a result, it becomes a film that is about allowing yourself to have experiences - and not regret them, as long as you enjoyed it in the moment - while becoming an experience in its own right. It is a film about feeling that feels lived-in and deeply felt, one aching with experience from director Luca Guadagnino and writer James Ivory, coming to be a film that may stand as one of the greatest romance films of the 2010s. It is simply that powerful, that moving, and that deeply felt that Call Me By Your Name transcends all boundaries of our world to become one thing: soul-stirring.

One bit that is incredibly interesting about Call Me By Your Name are the statues. A student of Mr. Perlman’s, Oliver is a graduate student who is spending the summer with the Perlman family to help him out in his studies. This a film about sexuality, especially the youthful energy brought to the table by the enthusiastic Elio. The statues, similarly, present this. With a statue Mr. Perlman’s associates find in the water, the genitals of the statue are prominent. As he goes over statues with Oliver, Mr. Perlman comments about how all of them having a toned physique, dare viewers to desire them, and all have a youthful curve with none of them being straight but always more powerful. This, in essence, proves to be Elio and Oliver. He has that energy and passion - the peach, especially reveals both, as does the scene where Oliver asks him to take off his trunks and comments on how he is already standing guard - while having a playful spirit about him. Oliver, however, is the one with the toned physique that practically dares Elio to desire him. And desire him he does. Oliver is attracted to Elio’s youthful energy, matching his own. Elio is attracted to Oliver’s appearance. The end result is a mutual, burning desire for one another - which fits perfectly in Guadagnino’s trilogy of desire - with both, in their own way, coming to represent the same sensuality, desire, and prowess presented by these statues. As his life’s work is studying these statues, it is no surprise that it is Mr. Perlman who understands and appreciates what Elio and Oliver experience together. By his own admission, it is a sort of passion and desire he has always wanted.

What certainly helps elevate Call Me By Your Name is the acting. As Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer fall into one another’s arms or even as they initially hesitate to engage one another, their chemistry is deeply felt. The two actors deliver some of their career-best performances in the film with Chalamet capturing the nervous but enthusiastic nature of his character while Hammer captures the more assured yet concerned nature of his. As Chalamet’s father, Michael Stuhlbarg may very well steal the show, however, especially due to his closing monologue. Chalamet and Hammer are great, but Stuhlbarg is GREAT. His monologue is beautifully delivered, impactfully written, with Stuhlbarg’s natural approach to the role lending to the word’s honesty and heightening their impact even greater. As Chalamet just stares into his eyes or as he later cries next to a fire, his acting is somehow impressive in his own right with both he and Hammer capturing a very cool, likable edge to their characters that allow their romance to be one we root for and engage with as both actors make their sometimes troubled characters into ones who are endlessly likable and enjoyable to be around for two hours.

A brilliantly poetic, moving, and deeply affecting work from Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name lives up to the hype and more. Completely astonishing film. This is a film about two men who share a brief romance with one another, but one that will define their every move for the rest of their lives. It is perhaps one of the finest romance films in recent memory, while ranking among the best films of 2017. Chalamet, Hammer, and Stuhlbarg, bring the words of James Ivory to life while Guadagnino brings the words of Ivory and the novel into perfect harmony with a film that is like walking down a quiet path in the middle of a beautiful summer day. It is warm, welcoming, and packed to the brim with an aesthetic and feeling that one wishes to simply bathe themselves in for the rest of time.

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