It’s rare to be presented with a film so unapologetically honest in its delivery, and able to move me based solely on emotion and character, but “Call Me By Your Name,” directed by Luca Guadagnino, does this and much more with its exploration of love, youth and fleeting time, reminding us that we can and should embrace our emotions, no matter the consequences.
This film is set “Somewhere in Northern Italy,” where 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) lives with his Jewish-Italian family. Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archeology, invites Oliver (Armie Hammer) an American grad student to live with the Perlman’s to study under him for the summer of 1983. As Elio and Oliver grow closer over the course of the summer, they form an intimate connection that develops into love.
At its core, “Call Me by Your Name” is a coming-of-age love story about two people exploring their sexuality, limited in the time that they have with one another. Chalamet is the biggest discovery of 2017; His portrayal of Elio so raw and real, fearless in his willingness to explore the character’s full range of emotions from the moment Elio develops feelings for Oliver to the moment he says his goodbyes. These shifts are subtle, but powerful, providing the emotional, melancholic undertone of the film; in particular, one of the most moving moments is the one that plays over the end credits, where the look on Chalamet’s face says it all. Playing off him beautifully is Hammer, who plays Oliver with cool confidence and a guarded heart. There’s a sense of apprehension mixed with longing in this character that adds layers to the budding relationship. The two actors have great chemistry, and because they make this relationship feel organic, it makes these events all the more heartbreaking when the summer comes to a close.
Structurally, the film seems to take heavy influence from art cinema, offering us a snapshot of Elio’s life. Events unfold naturally through long takes, the camera lingering on the characters as they go about their day to day lives, from Elio laying in bed to his family having dinner to the increasingly intimate interactions he has with Oliver. This helps with Elio’s character development, because no elements feel like they were skipped over. Some may find the pacing labored for this reason, but I found the characters compelling enough that this didn’t bother me. Moments in real life don’t get to be edited out, so the fact that Guadagnino shows us all of these details makes this film feel real, like it all really did take place in the summer of 1983.
It’s also worth mentioning that the music in “Call Me by Your Name” is beautiful. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens’ work with the soundtrack makes me want to cry — although his voice usually does that to me anyway. He was nominated for an Oscar for his song, “Mystery of Love,” which is great, but I thought “Visions of Gideon,” which plays over the credits, captures the tone of the film the best.
What sets this film apart for me, though, is its themes. With a performance that felt somewhat overlooked this year, Stuhlbarg delivers a speech toward the end of the film about love and pain, telling Chalamet’s Elio that if we rip out these emotions, there will be nothing left of us. This speech is gut-wrenching because it’s true; human connection is the most important thing, and when we have that, we can’t let it slip through our fingers or grow numb to the pain, because to do so would be to deny who we are. Elio becomes true to himself when he allows himself to feel, to fall for Oliver — and Oliver him.
These struggles are significant because they are honest and real, which is why “Call Me by Your Name” is such a moving piece of filmmaking, crushing in the best possible way. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen, captivated by its romantic elements, its rawness and its steadfast reminder to love deeply.