Film Review – Call Me by Your Name (2017)
At the Sundance Film Festival back in January of 2017, word quickly spread about a little film from Italy entitled Call Me by Your Name. Although its subject matter was controversial to some, it quickly became an early Oscar favorite with rave reviews from practically every outlet imaginable. Now, as the Oscar season progresses, that sentiment has only grown. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Luca Guadagnino
Written By: James Ivory
In 1983, Elio (Chalamet) and his family are enjoying everything that comes with a summer in Italy, drinking in the sun and the hazy atmosphere. As part of every summer, Elio’s father (Stuhlbarg) works with a graduate student on further study of Greco-Roman culture as part of his research as a professor. This particular year, an American named Oliver (Hammer) joins Elio and his family at their villa in Crema.
Although Elio and Oliver remain distant at first, they begin to grow closer to each other as the summer progresses, leading to a romantic relationship between the two.
Before its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Call Me by Your Name had a production that, like the movie itself, was very unconventional.
The screen rights were bought in 2007 before the book of which the film is based was even published. However, production stalled shortly after as producers could not get a director to sign on to the project. Many individuals simply dropped out for higher paying jobs. Luca Guadagnino would later come onto the project as a location consultant. He was later offered to direct the film, but he initially declined. Later, he finally obliged, finally feeling prepared to take on such a different film.
Guadagnino and his writing partner James Ivory then started on a script without a contract in place. In fact, Call Me by Your Name didn’t even receive proper funding until the script was finished. When asked why he felt so compelled to work on the script before he ever received compensation, Guadagnino exclaimed that it was anything but a job. He loved the story that Call Me by Your Name told — writing the script was a pleasure.
Crema, Italy is as Much a Character as the People that Inhabit It
Call Me by Your Name transports you to Italy during the 1980’s. With a hazy glimmer over the screen, Italy becomes mesmerizing in an instant (an enchanting soundtrack adds to this feeling).
Thankfully, film has started to focus on stories with people who are rarely seen in the general public consciousness. Normally, this leads to showing poor, destitute surroundings. Call Me by Your Name moves the needle in the exact opposite direction, expressing itself as unapologetically lavish. Elio and his family live in a beautiful, secluded villa surrounded by dirt roads and picturesque wildlife. Everything about their location is undeniably peaceful.
However, a rich lifestyle does not equate to a pretentious film in this circumstance. In actuality, this sheltered lifestyle only adds to Elio’s naiveté. Amid his time as a teenager, his ability to disappear in the countryside has kept his personal identity from maturing.
Crema is like a pocket universe, facilitating the events of the film unlike any other place on Earth. It creates the perfect atmosphere for a relationship to blossom, throwing inhibitions aside.
The sun-drenched sky transforms the medium. Call Me by Your Name doesn’t abide by usual plot construction. There’s no inciting incident or large interpersonal struggle. Crema acts as a playground for these characters to act as they see fit. With no clear three act structure, Call Me by Your Name becomes unbelievably authentic — and human.
Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer are Revelations
However, this “real” feeling does not work without a couple of knockout performances. Luca Guadagnino has complete faith in both Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer to capture a moment — and they have complete trust in Guadagnino to feel so vulnerable.
Chalamet is unsure of himself. But, he defies the usual tropes of someone in that position. He has confidence — he even has a girlfriend. And yet, you can sense something in him that doesn’t feel quite right. This feeling isn’t tied to a particular person at first. Rather, he’s just looking for answers. With that concept comes a performance that defies general expectations of acting. Chalamet is awkward, acting as if every movement is spontaneous. Similar to the setting of the film, there isn’t a moment in which Chalamet feels fake. He intensifies this sentiment with one of the most raw and fearless final sequences of recent memory.
Armie Hammer is equally impressive as the older of the two. He has to mirror Chalamet in a lot of movements, making for scenes that are objectively imperfect — and that’s exactly the point. When these two interact, the notion of film as an artifice disappears. They’re awkward, silly, and even strange together. For that, Call Me by Your Name is that much more magical.
Call Me by Your Name Transcends Most People’s Expectations of its Subject Matter
With a film that centers around a relationship between two men comes the natural inclination to label it as a “gay love story.” That phrase is technically correct, but it comes nowhere close to capturing the essence of Call Me by Your Name. From how this story unfolds, it is far more about self-discovery and the feeling of true attraction to another being. The fact that these two individuals are men is besides the point. Call Me by Your Name taps into a feeling that most movies never even approach — that of pure attachment and vulnerability.
There are certainly concessions to make, however. After all, this subject matter just won’t appeal to certain groups of people. But, Call Me by Your Name is so insightful — everyone can relate to this story if they allow it. This feeling is captured perfectly by Michael Stuhlbarg. Never as a critic have I found something more true, thoughtful, and profound than some of the remarks that Stuhlbarg makes to Timothee Chalamet. In these moments, Call Me by Your Name shows true heart.
Call Me by Your Name is an enchanting experience that transcends your usual romance story. It meanders in its everyday activities, straying away from the Hollywood version of this tale for something that is incredibly raw and touching. Calling this film a “gay love story” does not do service to its grace and thoughtful impact. Rather, this film is more about self-discovery — capturing the growth of true feelings felt for some other individual. In this respect, the movie becomes deeply realistic.
Call Me by Your Name might detail a very distinct and separate story, but its themes are easily acceptable to people of all walks of life. It’s unconventional in every way, and we’re all better for it.
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