Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name ★★★★★


There are films that, even before you watch them, you know you’re going to fall in love with them. Then, there are also films that when you watch them, you know they’re going to stay with you forever. “Call Me By Your Name”, the latest masterpiece by Luca Guadagnino, falls into these two categories.

The screenplay, based on André Aciman’s novel, was written by the great James Ivory (also responsible for that other brilliant work of queer cinema, “Maurice”). Simply put, it is the story of the love that grows between a 24-year-old academic student called Oliver (Armie Hammer) and a 17-year-old boy called Elio (Timothée Chalamet) during one summer in 1983, somewhere in the north of Italy (as the title cards show). The film, thus, belongs to different cinematic traditions, especially in terms of European productions: the “first love” film, the “magical summer” film, the “Italian-feel-good” film, and, obviously, the “gay” film. However, what “Call Me By Your Name” does is, with clarity of vision and brilliance of mise en scène, build a narrative that surpasses any simplistic notion of “type”, reaching new heights in the depiction of sexual attraction, intimacy, and self-discovery.

Guadagnino, after the masterfully tragic “I Am Love” and the vibrantly decadent “A Bigger Splash” tones down his usual flourishes, taking the time to let the characters (and the audience) revel in the small pleasures that form the scope where the main story takes the place. Be it a fish recently caught in the river, a fridge that wasn’t closed properly, or the request for a glass of water after a long journey, the film takes its time weaving a tapestry of moments that create a world that is both palpable and wondrous. That doesn’t mean that Guadagnino (heavily influenced by Bertolucci and Rohmer) abstains from using the delightful references that usually compose his works: in this case, they go from Greek statues to the Psychedelic Furs.

If these short moments depicting glimpses of reality give the movie a sense of texture, it’s the great scenes – and there are so many of them – that make “Call Me By Your Name” soar. The (in)famous “peach scene” will probably become the most talked about cinematic sequence of the year, and it’s a classic already (even though the follow-up is more visceral and touching). There is also a dialogue in the middle of the film, involving a very long-take and a war monument, that is one of the most impressive feats of composition and nuance I have ever seen. And don’t even get me started on that sublime final shot: Timothée Chalamet gives Glenn Close in “Dangerous Liaisons” a run for her money.

Chalamet, by the way, is nothing short of outstanding. Looking like a more modern and less cryptic Tadzio out of “Death in Venice”, it is impressive what the actor does in terms of emotional range: shifting from the rashness of adolescence, to the innocence of youth, to the sexual awakening of a man, it is one of the best performances by a young actor in recent cinema. Armie Hammer, back to great form as in “The Social Network”, uses his physicality as an acting tool, and it is disarming to see the change in his character when his feelings for Elio become clearer. The romantic chemistry between the lead actors sizzles, and there is a naturalness to their eroticism rarely seen in queer cinema.

Oddly enough, however, the most powerfully intimate moment in “Call Me By Your Name” is not a sex scene, but one involving Elio and his father, played by Michael Stuhlbarg. It’s a scene near the end of the film, in which Stuhlbarg perfectly delivers a monologue at the same time so subtle but so earth-shattering about love, acceptance and life choices that it’s impossible not to feel moved.

With delicately beautiful music by Sufjan Stevens and lush cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, “Call Me By Your Name” is one of the strongest cinematic experiences I’ve had recently. In the second time I watched the film, I was lucky enough to talk to director Luca Guadagnino and he said jokingly that maybe I was making his film my fetish. It might be. But when this early in the year I already have my favorite film of 2017, I think I’ve earned that fetish.

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