Director Luca Guadagnino’s gem “Call Me By Your Name,” which is nominated for four Academy Awards — Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Actor (Timothée Chalamet) and Best Original Song (“Mystery of Love”), is near impossible to escape dry-eyed.
Even after the credits finished rolling on screen and everyone else had filed out of the theater and the usher was silently sweeping the popcorn off the floor, I was still crying. To be more specific, I was crying hysterically. Full disclosure: I cry during most movies (fully living up to the astrological stereotype for Cancers), but not usually this intensely, and not usually when I’m surrounded by other people.
“Call Me By Your Name” (rated R, released in Jan. 19) is set in the 1980s in a purposefully ambiguous “small town in northern Italy,” where we follow Elio (played by Timothée Chalamet), a charming, book-smart, musical Italian boy. We also follow Oliver (played by Armie Hammer), a graduate student who is staying with Elio’s family as he writes his thesis, and as they fall beautifully and passionately in love with each other. The movie has been described by many as a coming of age story, a gay or bisexual love story, a story about discovery or even as a movie about a sexual awakening. While none of these summaries are inaccurate, nothing is more encompassing and pointed than calling this movie a story about self-discovery and love.
Yet, for a love story, nothing about it is sappy or clichéd. Nor is the movie ever cynical or shy in how it tells this story. Unlike many movies that feature gay characters, the plot doesn’t hinge on the struggle to come out and gain acceptance. It is simply a story of unrestricted discovery of love. From the beginning, the film is sure of itself as this honest and raw depiction of love, and it sticks to and embraces that fully, allowing the viewer to do the same.
Admittedly, this film is a little slow in the beginning — not slow enough for the viewer to lose interest or leave, but noticeably slower given the power of its second half. It’s not boring or lazily written, but the tone seems to be more leisurely or languid. By the second half, the passion and desire take full force.
This is particularly evident in one of the hallmark (though not Hallmark-friendly) scenes featuring a peach. Without spoiling anything, the scene perfectly exemplifies the frustration, confusion, lust and love that Elio is feeling. The sentiment could have been conveyed in less vividly sexual ways, surely, but Elio’s emotions couldn’t have been fully captured by any other means. Even if it could have, the film feels no need to shy away from its sexuality, and doing so would sacrifice the film’s honesty.
The most beautiful and heartbreaking scenes come toward the end, when Elio’s father (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) delivers a monologue to Elio. He talks about love and the importance of pain and encourages Elio to embrace life. The monologue is not only beautifully written, but is delivered with no fluff or pretension. Out of all of the scenes in the movie, this one likely is the most rewatchable.
Many fans who went to see this film after reading André Aciman’s namesake novel (which the movie was adapted from), may have worried how a book that relied so heavily on the poignant inner monologue of Elio would effectively be transferred onto the screen. The solution was to have Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg act the hell out of it. Chalamet, in particular, who is by far the youngest and least experienced of the trio, fully commits himself to his character Elio, even learning Italian, piano and guitar for the role. Chalamet and Hammer did have time before filming to get to know each other. Even so, the commitment and believability of these two straight actors is commendable. They never shy away from the scene and what it asks of them, but instead handle every scene with care and precision.
Muriel Chinal, Sandro Piccarozzi and Violante Visconti di Modrone’s set design, and Giulia Piersanti’s costumes in this film are stunning. Aside from Wes Anderson movies maybe, set designs and costumes are usually unmemorable. In this case, however, each piece the characters wore and the beautiful villa the movie revolved around was hard to ignore. They were important in adding visual depth to the story as well.
Aside from conveying the time period, wardrobe emphasizes certain traits about a character. For instance, Oliver and his Chuck Taylor sneakers shows his American identity, and Marzia, a smaller character in the film, used her clothes to emphasize her femininity, which becomes central to the love story. The clothing and set come to the forefront of the movie a couple of times as well, most notably Oliver’s blue shirt and the peach tree respectively.
Many of the factors that went into “Call Me By Your Name” and contribute to its success are considered nontraditional in a filmmaking process. In addition to Chalamet and Hammer getting to know each other before filming, the film was shot sequentially, which anchored the actors in their characters. Luca Guadagnino also keeps the same team working for all of his films, which builds trust and an openness that seeps into the film. The entire film was completely shot on one lens and mostly in natural lighting, leaving the movie feeling realistic and unobtrusive. Much of the soundtrack was written also by Sufjan Stevens, whose harrowing song “Visions of Gideon” beautifully concludes the movie.
This isn’t a movie that is begging you to understand or question anything. It simply insists on being felt. It very much makes a 1980s summer romance in Italy feel familiar, while still managing to feel transcendental. The film’s protagonist, Elio, is also a 17-year old boy who is written with more complexity and intricacies than most teenage characters you will see in coming of age movies. Most importantly, he is relatable without being over eager. Nothing about Elio’s character is forced to appear more relatable to teenagers. Instead, Elio is crafted with care and respect. With all the Oscar buzz the movie is currently receiving (in addition to the many other awards it has been nominated for and won), I encourage everyone, no matter your favorite genre or any hesitation you may feel, to not only go see “Call Me By Your Name,” but to do so with complete openness.
“Call Me by Your Name” is not just a good movie. I would go so far as saying not only was this the best film of 2017, but it is worthy of of being brought up in the “best movies of all time” conversation. I can’t guarantee you will cry like I did, but by the time Sufjan Steven’s “Visions of Gideon” begins playing in the final scene, you will at least have tilted your head back a few times to stop yourself.