'Call Me by Your Name'
‘Call Me by Your Name’ is so emotionally specific that it transforms into something universal. It’s a queer love story set in a privileged estate in Italy in the early 1980s, yet so perfectly captures pained glances, hushed suspense and explosive passions of love that almost anyone should recognize part of themselves somewhere in the film. It’s a remarkable achievement from a filmmaker who’s no longer just a promising voice, but a genuine force.
That director is Luca Guadagnino, who previously showed promise in his gorgeously produced, but somewhat hollow features ‘I Am Love’ and ‘A Bigger Splash’. (Next he’s remaking ‘Suspiria’, which is fascinatingly insane.) Here, he’s partnered with the most unexpected writer in James Ivory, a man who specialized in scripting the stuffiest possible British dramas in the 1990s. Together, they’ve transformed André Aciman’s novel into a stunning new film. Timothée Chalamet stars as Elio, a young teen music prodigy who lives in Italy with his Academic parents (Mchael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar). Armie Hammer plays Oliver, a grad student who comes to live with them for a summer research trip. Between luxuriating in leisure, indulging in cuisine, and having academic conversations in multiple languages, Oliver and the boy fall in love – in one of those life-defining and altering ways that maybe only happens once, if you’re lucky.
All of that makes the movie sound a little manipulative and predictable, but somehow that’s not the case. The performances ache with almost uncomfortable honesty. The story unfolds through gentle rhythms as little moments build up to big events and bigger emotions. Guadagnino stages and shoots his themes with a sensual passion and sensitive care. It feels like nothing is happening until everything has happened, as Guadagnino and his team explore the wildly unpredictable explosions and deep scars left by love. For the remarkably raw young actor Chalamet, that love is an introduction to a new world and way of living. For Hammer, it’s something pure that might never be recaptured. Characters speak of it in abstract and romantic terms, but never in ways that feel forced or overly intellectualized. The film feels like the real thing executed by people talented, thoughtful and passionate enough to take their time at let it happen.
‘Call Me by Your Name’ has a sweeping beauty, even though it comes from a story that couldn’t be smaller or more personal. Performances are so true you can feel them within. The locations and actors are so beautifully shot, the tale feels hypnotic without overwhelming the naturalism.While at times the filmmakers get indulgent in symbolism and academic asides, the core works with a potent power.
Two scenes ring out in ways that will be discussed and remembered. One involves a peach and is so delightfully perverse that it’ll leave viewers giggling and gasping. Another is a potent monologue from father to son so powerful empathetic and honest it’ll silence theaters with a different brand of audacity. The fact that the film can sustain both dramatically different peaks of filmmaking and storytelling is a testament to Guadagnino’s gifts and the script’s truths. This is a special movie. It’ll linger long in the minds even of those who rarely enjoy this sort of thing.