Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is a film that takes its time yet never wastes a moment. It may seem at first that it is slow to startup, but this humdrum beginning that meanders almost lazily through this formative summer of Elio’s (Timothee Chalamet) is used as a basis from which the film’s central relationship can form. From the point at which this relationship comes to be, the film becomes an intensely emotional and sensual experience.
Certainly, this lengthy and deliberate film will lose some viewers. The simplicity of the plotting does not help in that regard. But beyond mere plot is a film that captures an adolescent awakening amid the natural beauty of Northern Italy. Guadagnino stages his actors around these beauties, both man-made and natural, in ways that send currents of unsaid emotion through the screen and out into the audience.
For just one example we have the scene in which Elio brings the hard-bodied all-American Oliver (Armie Hammer) to a World War I memorial site. As they carry out a conversation that is pivotal to Elio, although he dances around the subject as he fights for proper words, the pair grows farther apart as they traverse the perimeter of this historical landmark. By the time they meet again on the other side, Elio’s point has been made clear.
Timothee Chalamet portrays youth in awakening in a way that is shockingly nuanced; it is a complexity that sneaks up on you. His character necessitates that he grapple with complicated romantic emotions in a way that a teenager does not always understand, and thus these emotions are often tamped down in Elio. To carry such a strikingly intellectual character with wit and a playfulness while also suppressing the loftier emotions in a way that convinces us of the character’s reality is an undeniable feat for the young actor. He pulls it off with grace.
Hammer also does a fine job, although his character is, in comparison, far less evolved by the end of the film. He moves through the film with a charisma that is not excessive to the degree in which it sinks his character into one-dimensionality. Still, there is something to be desired in the character he portrays.
The real standout from the supporting cast is Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Elio’s father. He embodies a whimsical yet wise fatherly figure incredibly well throughout the early part of the film, even though he is given much less to do than Hammer or Chalamet. This is without mentioning his scene near the end of the film, which is easily the best monologue delivery of the year. Is this one scene enough to earn Stuhlbarg an Oscar? Probably not, but he makes a damn good case for himself.
There is one strange omission in the film that is nagging, and it would not be a concern were it not for the internal comparison. This is to say that, in a film that is about a young man coming to understand and embrace his homosexuality, the sex scene that first introduces this character to his sexuality is omitted from the film. Where the character’s introduction to heterosexual sex is shown on camera, the scene between Elio and Oliver is cut off with a pan to the window. It is not as if the film requires this scene to be shown, but to explicitly depict one but avoid the other makes the scene ring false.
All the same, Guadagnino captures the energy and emotional turbulence of first romance in an entirely cinematic way. Call Me By Your Name may not be original or exciting from a narrative standpoint, but it is a beauty of a film to behold.
Call Me By Your Name: A-
I couldn’t find an organic place in the review for this point, but the music in Call Me By Your Name is gorgeous. The Sufjan Stevens original pieces fit perfectly where they are placed in the film. The classical piano pieces, both when they are diegetically used in the story and when they play over scenes, are wonderful. This piano score, maybe it is just me, but it seems as if the pieces are chosen to mirror Elio’s emotional stance in a given scene. It’s wonderful.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)