Call Me By Your Name Is A Sensuous Masterpiece
Review by Aaron Haughton
Call Me By Your Name is the latest film from Italian filmmaker, Luca Guadagnino, and is based on the book of the same name by André Aciman. The film is a potent story of the elation and devastation of first love and the fragility of young love. It may take a bit of time for the film to cast its spell upon you, but eventually you'll find yourself seduced by the languid Italian countryside and wholeheartedly invested in the budding relationship of young Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer). Unlike films like Brokeback Mountain or Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name is not concerned with the villainous and oppressive environments that seem treaded commonplace within queer cinema. Here, the only villain is time and its looming expiration.
Set is Northern Italy in 1983, the film centers on Elio, a precocious 17-year-old American-Italian, as he bonds with his father's American research assistant, Oliver, over his emerging sexuality, their shared heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.
This is a film that deliberately and effectively takes its time. At first glance it can appear slow and simple, as there’s not too much to the meandering story at surface level, but beneath the veneer of simplicity lies a multitude of complexity that radiates through the phenomenal performances and is reinforced by Guadagnino’s carefully crafted direction and blocking. There were times that I felt like I wasn’t exactly on board with the film, but by the time it reached its end, all the lukewarm feelings had boiled over into flat out admiration for the film and it’s beautifully rendered execution.
Guadagnino brings a nice touch of Italian realism to the project, often holding shots for an extended period of time to unobtrusively allow the performances to carry the scenes, while still relying on the occasional offbeat edit to signify and reinforce the passing of time. There are moments where Guadagnino will turn the camera away from the blossoming relationship between Elio and Oliver, much in the same way Scorsese does in Taxi Driver with Travis at the pay phone, as if to look away from the inevitable heartache we know is waiting around the bend. He uses sound to a masterful effect to reinforce the reality (cars pass on the street and obscure our characters conversations) and to serve as an auditory depict of Elio’s internalized state (the tumultuous roll and tumble of John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction, and the ethereal and haunting “Visions Of Gideon” by Sufjan Stevens). Guadagnino also uses the gorgeous sun drenched Italian countryside to draw a sensual and seductive quality out of every aspect, managing to make a film that somehow touches all senses; I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face, I can smell the blossoming fruit in the air, I can taste the wine that accompanies each meal.
Elio is the heart and soul of the story and Timothée Chalamet embodies the character in every sense of the word, bouncing between French, English and Italian in a single conversation, playing the piano in long takes in the style of three different classical composers. He even gives American Pie a more artsy run for its money with regard to the sexual destruction of fruit-based items. Chalamet makes every emotion land, and when you’re not focusing on him, you’re looking at Armie Hammer, who gives far and away the best performance of his career here. The chemistry between the two of them was heartfelt, palpable, and completely genuine. You walk away from the film feeling as if you truly knew them, and you’re equally sad to see them go. Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar also provide excellent supporting performances, especially Stuhlbarg who delivers a poignant monologue near the film's end that ties everything together in a perfect and sensible way.
Early on, you’re made aware of the element of time that plays the villain in this tale of love, and can pretty much guess the ending, but yet it still manages to floor you. It’s a film of resinous nature that sticks to you long after it’s over, and makes you want to revisit this transformative summer in Elio’s young life almost immediately. I think there’s so much undeniable splendor to the film that it’ll manage to win just about anyone over, even if you don’t agree with the film politically, which is a true testament to its power.
The only discouraging part of the film is the talks of Guadaginino doing a sequel. Call Me By Your Name is too strong a film that I fear a sequel will mar its perfection. It just feels like a story that doesn’t need to be explored further. Surely, Guadagnino couldn’t enchant us all again, right? I guess only time will tell.
Rating: 5 apricots outta 5.
What did you think of the film? Were you enchanted? Do you want to take a trip to Italy now? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!