‘Call Me By Your Name” is a triumph

January 26, 2018

Beautiful. That is how to sum up Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name” with a single word. From the aesthetic to the score to the performances, “Call Me By Your Name” is a triumph.

Set in the beautiful northern Italian countryside in 1983, “Call Me By Your Name” tells the story of Oliver, Elio and one of the steamiest on-screen romances in cinema history. Right off the bat, let’s talk about the performances, because everyone is in top form. We spend the most time with Elio, an angsty and charming seventeen-year old. Played by relative-newcomer Timothee Chalamet, who recently appeared in 2017’s “Ladybird,” Chalamet is magnetic in “Call Me Your Name.” One of the reasons that I am so desperate to see this film for a second time is that Chalamet is so engrossing as Elio. I could not truly focus on Armie Hammer’s Oliver, who also stands out in the movie (but we will discuss him more later). Chalamet finds a perfect, adolescent balance between being totally sure of himself and utterly lost that is captivating. From start to finish, you cannot take your eyes off Elio.

Meanwhile, Hammer’s Oliver is his own special mix of strength and restraint. Oliver is staying in Italy as the grad student to Elio’s father. His initial interactions with Elio are as much a courtship as competition. Like Elio, it is not clear how much of Oliver’s confidence is a front, or really who is seducing who. Hammer’s career has been inconsistent to say the least—he has had his share of flops (“Lone Ranger” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” come to mind) as well as his brighter moments (“The Social Network,” “Nocturnal Animals), but “Call Me By Your Name” should settle the score once and for all: he is a great actor. His recent snub for a Best Supporting Actor nomination at this year’s Oscars is all the more stinging.

Michael Stuhlbarg rounds out a year of excellent performances (including but not limited to his work in “Fargo” season 3 and “Shape of Water”) with the stunning portrayal of Mr. Perlman, Elio’s father and Oliver’s professor. He is operating in the background for most of the film, but Stuhlbarg (also) should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for a single scene (it takes place toward the end of the film, trust me, you will know it when you see it). Stuhlbarg conveys so much about love and mortality in just one beautiful conversation, and carries the entire emotional weight of the movie.

This brings me to a specific critique. Some claim that if “Call me by Your Name” was a straight romance, it would not have nearly the same buzz around it–that the film is getting more attention because it is a gay love story. I vehemently disagree. The beauty of “Call Me By Your Name” is based in its performances, the gorgeous cinematography, and the general mood of the movie as a whole. Falling in a love that cannot last is not specific to relationships between two men, and had either Elio or Oliver been a different gender, the film would have been just as strong. The film is not even particularly concerned with homophobia, and dismissing “Call Me by Your Name” as a “gay” love story would be a major mistake.

Before I saw the film, a friend had told me to watch for the timing of the edits. He was absolutely right. Director Luca Guadagnino’s camera tends to either linger on objects that have no narrative payoff, or to cut away from a spectacular shot just a second too early. It all makes the film feel more authentic–reality does not follow a script ripe with payoffs, nor does it let us linger on the moments we would like to hold onto. Finally, the film is bolstered by original music from Sufjan Stevens and an all-around great score. If you want to hear the melancholy of “Call Me by Your Name,” just give the track, “Mystery of Love,” a listen.

If you want some more beauty in your life, go see “Call Me by Your Name.” It may be not be getting the Oscar love it deserves, but thanks to some phenomenal performances and the superb eye of Guadagnino, this is a film not to be missed.

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