Sensual and resplendent the film may be, but Guadagnino’s masterstroke is to give life to the unspoken—in this case, the bittersweet intimacies of a burgeoning queer romance.
Dir. Luca Guadagnino
2017 | Italy/USA | Drama/Romance | 132 mins | 1.85:1 | English & Italian
R21 (passed clean) for sexual content, nudity and some language
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg
Plot: In Northern Italy in 1983, 17-year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father’s research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.
Awards: Nom. for Teddy Award (Berlin). Won 1 Oscar – Best Adapted Screenplay. Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Original Song
International Sales: Memento Films
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed at Singapore International Film Festival ’17 – first published 14 Jan 2018)
One of those rare films that hit the mark with both critics and mainstream audiences, Call Me By Your Name is one of 2017’s best movies. All eyes are on breakout star Timothee Chalamet, who could snag an Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actor. He plays Elio, a listless seventeen-year old kid who would over the course of an Italian summer come-of-age, and in the process, find himself mature.
Unlike typical genre films that narrativises their lead character’s change from youthful naivety to street-smartliness, Call Me By Your Name instead focuses on inner emotional sensitivities, or to put it in another way, the desires of the heart. It gives life to the unspoken—in this case, the bittersweet intimacies of a burgeoning queer romance.
Luca Guadagnino, whom I first discovered with the underrated I Am Love (2009), which surely contains one of the finest music-scored climaxes ever, is a wonderful filmmaker whose works are not just sensual and resplendent but also—as I have hinted—musically enthralling.
“Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.”
His latest is no different, and with the film’s international success, one would hope of great things to come from this artful filmmaker who’s beginning to find more appreciation. Guadagnino also has Armie Hammer to thank for his effortless chemistry with Chalamet. Hammer plays Oliver, a charming research assistant of Elio’s father who comes for a visit, and who nurtures Elio’s emerging sexuality.
Many have described Call Me By Your Name as a gay film that is not about gays, which is thereabouts as an apt descriptor for this layered drama. It is a movie about owning one’s feelings, to take… to hold, to treasure. Its universal story will speak to everyone who has ever loved and to feel loved in return, amid all the insecurities and an uncertain future.
The film is always in its moment, so caught up with the lives of Elio and Oliver that nothing else matters but their bliss and heartbreak. Michael Stuhlbarg, one of the great underrated character actors of our time, plays Elio’s father, who gives an illuminating and resonating monologue towards the end of the film, capturing life in its inescapable melancholy and unbridled joy.
I must also mention 89-year old James Ivory (yes, that director of the Merchant Ivory productions like A Room with a View (1985) and Howards End (1992)), who wrote the screenplay, adapted from Andre Aciman’s novel. Well… what a script!