Directed by Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name is a triumph of film, adapted from the novel of the same name by André Aciman, with James Ivory penning the movie script. Gaudagnino kicked off his feature film career in 1999 with The Protagonists, but rose to prominence with his 2005 film, Melissa P. He has since also helmed the psychological drama A Bigger Splash (2015), which served as the second film in the director’s Desire trilogy – with the first being the 2009 release, I Am Love, and the final installment being Call Me By Your Name. For Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino teamed with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and recording artist Sufjan Stevens, the latter of which composed news songs for the film. Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful and powerful coming of age love story with remarkable performances from Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet.
Call Me By Your Name takes place somewhere in northern Italy at the start of the summer of 1983, when 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Chalamet) meets American academic Oliver (Hammer), who is studying under Elio’s college professor father while staying with the Perlmans at their villa for the season. Oliver spends his days working with Dr. Lyle Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), but gets along well enough with the entire family, including Lyle’s wife/Elio’s mother Annella (Amira Casar) and the family’s housekeeper Mafalda (Vanda Capriolo). Elio builds a friendship with Oliver, though they have some setbacks thanks to certain awkward interactions and miscommunications. Meanwhile, Elio spends much of his time with a girl his own age, Marzia (Esther Garrel).
Still, Elio and Oliver grow closer as the summer progresses, bonding over their shared Jewish heritage and love of knowledge. They spend more and more time together, and Elio shows Oliver around the Italian countryside, especially his favorite place to swim and read. After some false starts, the two begin to explore their sexuality together, despite Oliver’s reservations and worries about corrupting Elio – as well as his fear that they will be discovered by Elio’s parents. As the summer draws to a close, Oliver prepares to depart Italy and return home to the United States. But, he and Elio try to make the most of their remaining time together, with their relationship deepening even further. Still, the two are eventually forced to confront the reality of their circumstances and decide how – or if – they can continue their relationship.
Music plays an important role in Call Me By Your Name, especially since Elio is a musician – his parents often ask him to play the piano when they have guests for dinner – and he spends a great deal of time transcribing music he listens to on a now-vintage cassette player. Whether it’s The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way”, which becomes Elio and Oliver’s song of sorts, or the original songs by Stevens, Call Me By Your Name uses its soundtrack to set the tone and heighten the emotion of a scene. Rather than disappear into the background, the music of Call Me By Your Name often calls attention to itself, but in such a way that doesn’t distract from the film. Rather, it elevates the movie, helping to cultivate the environment in which Elio and Oliver’s story is told, while never overshadowing their story.
Further, the visuals in Call Me By Your Name, which was shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Mukdeeprom, are truly beautiful. The movie makes exceptional use of its setting in Italy, where the project shot on location, reveling in the lush countryside with lingering shots that allow viewers to fully immerse themselves in the setting. Undoubtedly, the realness of the environment translates to film thanks to Mukdeeprom and Guadagnino’s work. They especially put the villa used for the setting of the Perlman family home to good use, letting audiences explore its secret rooms and orchards as Elio and Oliver explore themselves and each other. At the end of the day, the shots of the Italian countryside are meant to serve the story at the heart of Call Me By Your Name, but they also provide a great deal of rich visuals to captivate audiences – and captivate they surely will.
Still, even with beautiful scenery and delightful music, the success of Call Me By Your Name rests on the shoulders of Hammer and Chalamet. Thankfully, both actors deliver entirely compelling and heart wrenching performances as Oliver and Elio. Chalamet plays the precocious young man coming of age and exploring his sexuality, while Hammer portrays a slightly older and more mature, but conflicted, man who is also exploring his feelings of attraction, though both are equally charming in their own ways. The pair are aided by Ivory’s script, but it’s the little moments between Chalamet and Hammer – their choices in their physicality and the intimacy in their presence together – that truly sells the love story between Elio and Oliver. Call Me By Your Name is a triumph almost entirely thanks to Hammer and Chalamet, whose performances should receive some much-deserved awards recognition this year.
Of course, the lead actors’ performances aren’t Call Me By Your Name’s only strength. In fact, Stuhlbarg offers his own heartfelt turn as Elio’s father. Though Elio’s parents are more of background fixtures for much of the film, Stuhlbarg is given a monologue at one point that encapsulates his own quietly powerful performance. It’s one exceptional moment of many throughout Call Me By Your Name that offers insight into characters who don’t often get to be the star of their own stories in Hollywood. The relationship between Elio and Oliver is one some viewers may not be familiar with – while others will know it intimately – but at the heart of Call Me By Your Name is a universal love story, and the tale of someone discovering who they are through that love.
As such, Call Me By Your Name is both familiar and fresh, with all the emotion of a truly fantastic love story, and the development of a remarkable coming of age tale. While there may be those who write off Call Me By Your Name because it features leads who aren’t often depicted in mainstream stories popularized by Hollywood – and, on a larger scale, society – in any real way, make no mistake that Guadagnino’s latest film offers a coming of age love story to which almost anyone can relate. With the addition of Stevens’ enthralling original music (and all the music included in the film) as well as the mesmerizing visuals, Call Me By Your Name is a truly unique and emotional moviegoing experience – one that will no doubt be a major player in the upcoming awards season.
Call Me By Your Name is now playing in a limited U.S. theatrical release and will expand to more theaters over the forthcoming weeks. It runs 132 minutes and is rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language.
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