“Call Me by Your Name” transports audiences to a sizzling summer in northern Italy

January 30, 2018

“Call Me by Your Name,” directed by Luca Guadagnino, is less of a film than it is a capture of a beautiful moment expressed through the art of acting, music, and screen. Nominated for four Academy Awards, the romance has soared to the top as one of the season’s best films.

The heart of the film is the passionate romance between Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), set in the sensual Northern Italian town of Crema in the sizzling summer of 1983. When Elio meets Oliver, he’s taken aback by the habits and attitude of the relaxed American. With his tiny 80s shorts, chiseled frame of 6’ 5”, and searing blue eyes, he’s the midwestern Ken Doll contrast to Chalamet more European, sharp post-adolescent beauty. Elio, a pianist who would rather transcribe music and bury his nose in a book than go out dancing, finds it hard to connect with their houseguest, and tries and fails many times throughout the first half of the film to gain his attention.

While their first interactions are strained by Elio’s nerves, as their friendship grows their attraction to each other bubbles over as the fire burns under the northern Italian sun into something they can no longer ignore.

At 22 Chalamet is the youngest actor nominated for an Academy Award since 1939. For his role as Elio, he’s been nominated for over 40 awards, 21 of which he’s won, including nods from the SAG and Golden Globe awards.

Their romance intensifies in a short period of time, the passion of first love overwhelming 17-year-old Elio and both surprising and infatuating Oliver. In their moments together Elio clambers onto Oliver, the awkward need for closeness a masterful portrayal of the physical expression of wanting to be nearer to someone but not knowing how. You can see in Elio’s eyes how mesmerized he is by Oliver and how entranced Oliver is by Elio.

They hide their relationship from Elio’s parents, yet as parents tend to, they pick up on the rare connection between the two men, even if they label it first as a friendship. Because of this, when Oliver needs to spend the rest of his trip at a university in Bergamo, they send Elio with him to enjoy the last few days they have together. They dance around the city intoxicated by love (and alcohol), living in a dream that is too quickly shattered by Oliver’s departure.

The emotional final moments are drawn out as Elio is left staring at the train exiting the station along with his first love. He calls his mother (Amira Casar) to come get him and spends the ride home with his eyes swollen with tears, which leads to the interaction between him and his father. Through an emotional monologue delivered by Michael Stuhlbarg, he tells his son:  “How you live your life is your business, just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill it and with it the joy you’ve felt.”

The wisdom and acceptance his father displays is a universally poignant message for parents. Elio’s parents, by accepting him and allowing him to talk through his emotions, cultivate an environment where he’s able to explore and understand his new feelings and emotions. Through the choppy waters of heartbreak, his parents throw him a life raft by letting him know that no matter what, they will support him.

Chalamet’s performance in the film, which has been widely praised by film critics, is more honest and real than anything I’ve seen on screen to this day. His raw availability and convincing youth elevated the entire film all the way to its final moments as tears stream down his face while the credits roll. Chalamet, who also has a role in the Oscar-nominated film “Lady Bird”, is just beginning an already impressive film career. His natural talent at only 22 is sure to mark him as one of the most prolific actors of our age.

Hammer and Chalamet, who play love interests in the film, were able to get to know each other as friends in the weeks before they shot the film to build the natural, believable chemistry shown on screen.

Along with the beautiful story is the gorgeous craftsmanship of the film. Under Guadagnino’s passionate direction the film is stitched together in such an aesthetically masterful way, the Northern Italian setting a crucial character in the budding romance. I was particularly impressed by the rich colors that encapsulated the feeling of summer, from Oliver and Elio’s white shirts as they sit at the bank of the river and share their first kiss to the bright peaches growing on the trees in Elio’s backyard.

Originally hired as location consultant after declining the role of director, Guadagnino’s change in heart is crucial to the film’s emotional and artistic impact. He carefully picked music for the film, wanting it to encapsulate Elio’s families taste, the time period (early 80s), and the romanticism of the film. He was particularly interested in the work of Sufjan Stevens, who contributed three songs to the soundtrack.

Not a moment of the movie is without the tragedy of romance, the honesty of discovery, and the raw emotional availability of everyone on the screen. “Call Me by Your Name” is everything a film should be – honest, moving, and thought-provoking for audiences. Its universal message grips all people who’ve felt the twangs of falling in love, and highlights how important it is to grasp onto the rare virtue of life’s most genuine moments.

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