Written by Hadley Passela.
Already receiving Oscar worthy attention, “Call Me By Your Name” is an emotionally enthralling love story directed by Italian filmmaker, Luca Guadagnino, director of “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash.” Set in Northern Italy, Guadagnino creates a visually stunning canvas through lush imagery and rich cultural nuances that fosters a sensual romance between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and 24-year old Oliver (Armie Hammer).
In a time where we have cause to fear going backwards, Guadagnino has produced a breathtaking film that shows we’ve made significant progress towards love and acceptance. Through a simply told love story of facing the truth in our desires, he delivers a powerful and honest work of art that keeps us grounded in love — and moving forward.
It is 1983 and Elio is spending the summer at his parent’s home surrounded by the vibrant Italian countryside. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a Greco-Roman professor who mentors Oliver, a graduate student who comes to study and stay with them. Guadagnino uses cinematic flourishes to draw us in through the senses, as we watch them engage in family meals alfresco surrounded by apricot trees, and have thoughtful conversations about literature and music. These moments captivate and put you under a spell from beginning to end.
Elio is striking yet boyish, with curly, raven locks and the ability to speak Italian, French and English. He is of an elevated maturity; plays guitar and Bach by ear; and readily challenges the intellect of the charming, 6 foot 5 inches, blonde, preppy-faced Oliver. Guadagnino captures the essence of falling in love through the visible allure of their push-and-pull as they engage each other, and their magnetic connection is felt through the subtlest exchanges.
Music written by Sufjan Stevens for the film captures Elio’s narrative and emotions in musical tandem, and the screenplay written by James Ivory gives the film a very thoughtful voice, as though it is thinking before it speaks. Every exchange between Elio and Oliver is curt, yet deliberate and profound. We hang on every word and feel the butterflies of first love and desire build between them like a slow burn.
Young Elio becomes mesmerized with Oliver, and we empathize with his confusion towards his desires, which are made palpable and substantiated with gripping reality by Chalamet’s performance. Oliver faces his own vulnerabilities as he is challenged by Elio’s maturity and their undeniable connection. They speak to each other poetically; “Is there anything you don’t know?” Oliver says to Elio as long camera shots focus on their exchanges in the pool. Slowly Guadagnino creates a hypnotic dance of titillation that lures the viewer in to the point where the magnetism between them becomes empathetically all encompassing.
The supporting cast becomes an integral part of their love story when Elio’s father (Stuhlbarg), acknowledges their situation while they are studying the curvature of sculptures and turns to Oliver and says, “Sometimes they are impossibly curved, and so, they are so nonchalant and hence – their ageless ambiguity, as if they are daring you to desire them.” Oliver notably looks up at him as though he is speaking about Elio.
In the most poignant moment of the film, when Oliver has returned to the U.S. and Elio’s heart is broken, the boy’s father delivers a parental soliloquy keenly aware of what Elio is feeling without him having to say anything; “Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot,” he says to him, and encourages him to embrace his pain, commending him for following his heart. It is a lesson on how all parents should speak to their children, and more importantly, love them.
While “Call Me By Your Name” certainly elevates the progress of gay cinema, the film emphasizes the humanistic aspects of love and desire without boundaries; it is simply a beautiful love story between two people — and to look upon it any other way hinders our progress towards moving forward with anything but acceptance.