Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name ★★★★★

Five times I’ve seen this, and every time it’s something new to me. It’s whatever I bring to it. I notice new things. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be so familiar with a film, and yet to not feel it has finished revealing itself to you.

For Seventh Row’s Call Me by Your Name Special Issue (which is full of great writing from others that will bring the film into sharper focus), I took a look at Armie Hammer’s portrayal of Oliver. On top of everything about the film that shatters me, his performance may be what burrows deepest into my heart.


This is, I think, the last viewing of Call Me by Your Name that I’ll log here, before it leaves cinemas and forever joins the archives of home video. I’d like to mention some observations I’ve made about the film’s use of music.

So much of it appears twice. It’s not just Love My Way that repeats, first in that ecstatic scene, and then in that gut-wrenching one. J’adore Venise does double duty too - first as Elio watches Oliver playing poker in amazement, early on in their lazy days in Crema; second when Elio sits heartbroken and alone in his mother’s car after Oliver has left. We hear how the seemingly trivial songs that radio stations play on repeat in summer can come to mean so much more come summer’s end, once you’ve been through so much with them humming in the background. Music, whatever kind, is the most potent resurrector of memory.

And backtracking slightly back to Love My Way... notice which lyrics are edited out the first time, but aren’t the second. The 1st, the song deliberately skips over the lines, “there’s emptiness behind their eyes”, “they just want to steal us all and take us all apart”. They’re edited out. They’re not the second time. Once these songs have weight and become familiar, you start to look past the catchy tune and hear the darker parts.

There are non-diegetic instances of music repetition, too. The opening bars of Viseons of Gideon play as Elio and Oliver creep nervously into the bedroom the night they first have sex. As they consumate their relationship, here is a reminder of its end. This is a night that Elio will think back on almost every day of the rest of his life. The music distances us from it as he strains to remember, and to recapture, that feeling.


Early on, Elio manically plays Une barque sur l’ocean on the piano, writhing his body as he channels all his raging desire into the keys. By playing music, he is trying to amplify, extend, and luxuriate in his feelings toward Oliver. This piece of music comes back non-diegetically in the scene where the two of them circle a World War I memorial, and Elio confesses his feelings. The music fades in only when Elio is not being watched by Oliver; when he is able to luxuriate in the feeling of longing without having to act on it.


Hallelujah Junction is the perfect way to start the film: it bursts onto screen along with the vibrant opening credits. Those credits do an extraordinary job of setting the tone for Call Me by Your Name. Somehow, through only images of statues and summer-bright, messy yellow font, we know that we are about to experience something joyful and life-changing. Once more, we hear the music after Elio has writhed on Oliver’s bed while wearing his swim trunks on his head. It’s an act of both sexual liberation and frustration; he has admitted to himself, unequivocally, that he desires Oliver, but that pent up energy is so strong and fierce, and it has nowhere to go. He throws open the bedroom door and Hallelujah Junction’s tinkling piano keys burst into motion. From the balcony, Elio watches Oliver stride across the lawn. The urge to do something is so unbearably, excitingly strong.

And then there is Le jardin feérique, a piece of music that appears three times: Elio listens to it on his headphones in one of the first scenes of the film; it plays on the record player as his parents lovingly pose the question, “Is it better to speak or to die”; finally, it is non-diegetic in Michael Stuhlbarg’s infamous monologue, in which he displays a level of parental compassion and wisdom that most of us could only dream of. This music is sad in its swells and crescendoes, yes - but it also has a sense of ‘life goes on’. It reminds us of Elio’s support system - his safety blanket - which is always there in the background, even if he doesn’t recognise it. There are people who love him, and who can see what’s going on with him and Oliver clear as day, because they know him deeply. They are what will help him get through the pain ahead. Le jardin féerique fades in, and we are reminded that, although things are painful, they will be ok.

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