Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name ★★★½

I hesitate to equate this film with 2015's "Carol" and 2016's "Moonlight", even though all three by design are progressive, intimately observed gay romantic dramas, and two of them are even period pieces about a couple with a noted age difference...and all three made their way into cinemas during the final months of the year, which may or may not have been a boost for their eventual prominence during awards season. Yet all three, for some reason, left me underwhelmed. Not sure what connection, if any, there is to be made on that point, but it was enough of a coincidence that I felt I had to acknowledge it.

This is the better of the three, though. Rather than be cheapened by storytelling banality like "Carol" and "Moonlight" were, it is almost entirely a mood piece, summery and languid in the key of French and Italian cinema. The silences, the countryside settings, the detail, the body language - it really is an exquisite portrait of a place and a handful of people, and of how two people circle each other in that timeless dance of mutual attraction. Everybody involved is collaborating at their finest, but five categories seem to distinguish it most:

- the soundtrack (with the contemplative sparkle of many a Sufjan Stevens piano piece as well as other classical selections and a resonant use of "Love My Way" by the Psychedelic Furs)

- the understated beauty of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom's cinematography

- the heavy musk of vintage Merchant-Ivory productions thanks to James Ivory's script

- the peerless acting that often reaches to places few performances have bothered (Timothee Chalamet is MVP of course, but that's not to short-change anyone else, and Michael Stuhlbarg must be cited too - he's been a stand-out in movies ever since 2010's "A Serious Man", but 2017 seems to be a special year for him, between this and "The Shape of Water". He's like a gentler Joaquin Phoenix)

- and Luca Guadagnino's conduction of it all. Not that I've quite loved any of his movies yet, but after seeing this, "I Am Love", and "A Bigger Splash", I'm willing to watch anything he makes from now on. Bravo, sir.

I confess that it's possible I didn't align with this movie's naturalistic yet dreamlike reverie because I watched it while I was suffering through the flu, ergo probably not at my most receptive state of mind. Nonetheless, I found myself losing both interest and patience at times, appreciating all the fantastic creative effort that went into it while wondering what this particular romance has to offer that a million others don't. The answer, obviously, is "everything you just wrote about in this review until now", but I mean in terms of insight. Of poetry. Of feeling. I wasn't invested in what was happened to these two men, for whatever reason. It all just felt like a fancier way of telling a mediocre love story that had nothing of its own to say. So what it comes down to, I guess, is something beyond objective merit, into whether the movie lights up your heart somehow, and it has for so many other people, and that's great and I don't even want to argue it with them. But it simply didn't for me. On this first viewing, I was left with an intellectual admiration, not an emotional one. Sucks for me.

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