- Product Rating -

Call Me by Your Name

| December 15, 2017

Reactions to movies are subjective—that cannot be argued. And while people bring to movies what their own lives have supplied them with, I sometimes wonder at what point a movie falls just a bit short on its own terms as opposed to in regards to an audience member’s personal tastes. Call Me by Your Name is a movie that, with its powerhouse performances and tactile, self-assured direction, makes for an overall satisfying viewing, granting the audience a refreshingly intimate look at its protagonist. With all of that being said, I wonder if I was distanced from the film from the beginning.

I’m aromantic and asexual; I have no interest in relationships, nor do I have any reason to act intimately. The more I think about it, though, I realize that no, the perceived flaws of Call Me by Your Name are not my doing. Luca Gaudagnino’s latest has some of the best moments of 2017, and it has touched tons of people by (apparently) being enrapturing in its craftsmanship and honesty. While I can’t doubt either of those claims, I still felt a bit empty—and dare I say bored at times—by its meandering sequences of fluff throughout the middle before its stellar ending. It’s a film that functions on one level, and that’s as a look at first love. Interspersed with the undeniable greatness present here, though, is a sense of repetition that comes with watching privileged people lounge around Europe during the summer, even if they happen to be queer.

Based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, the film takes place in Northern Italy in the summer of 1983 where 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) spends his time at his family’s residence, often playing music and engaging in a flirtatious relationship with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). While staying with his father Sam (Michael Stuhlbarg), a college professor, and his mother Annella (Amira Caesar), a translator, he meets Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old grad student helping Sam with research. Soon enough, Elio and Oliver begin to form a relationship that quickly morphs from platonic to romantic. While Elio is in some ways cultured and educated beyond his years, Oliver is socially stunted to an extent, leading the complimentary personalities of the two toward mutual growth over the course of the summer.

Guadagnino endows the film with such maturity and passion that’s matched by its stellar lead performances. There’s a tenderness to Call Me by Your Name at times that, at times, goes largely unmatched in modern cinema, recognizing the awkwardness of some situations and the various inevitabilities of others. Despite being told entirely from the perspective of a teenage boy, it’s still written and directed with a sense of retrospection, a sense of maturity that can only be known by undergoing the experiences that Elio himself falls into. Between Aciman’s source material and James Ivory’s screenplay, the film provides for some moments of wisdom that are beautiful in how earnestly they’re conveyed, refusing to bow to the senses of disconnection that would make any emotion more palpable. Despite the strengths of Chalamet, it may be Stuhlbarg who creates the deepest impact, his softness like a blanket passed on from a grandparent.

Now, despite the numerous strengths of Call Me by Your Name, I still couldn’t help but feel maddened by stretches of it. What could be more than half of act two is something of a slog—a beautiful slog, but a slog all the same. The intimacy of the film’s scope in some ways feels as if it is its undoing, insistent on capturing the minutiae of Elio and Oliver’s escapes to an extent that sequences feel extraneous. Hanging out by the pool, hanging out by the river, hanging out in the streets, hanging out in Elio’s estate—it sometimes doesn’t have all that much momentum or emotional depth. It occasionally goes below observational cinema in that what is being depicted isn’t unique this this particular story. At 132 minutes (including a great scene that plays through the credits), Guadagnino, Ivory, and editor Walter Fasano focus in on moments when the imagery onscreen is more obvious than evocative, once or twice to a distracting extent. This particular flaw is forgivable, though, as the spouts of restlessness I felt are Call Me by Your Name’s massive detractors.

Comparable films operated on multiple levels. For example, Carol was a lesbian romance that was also being about female oppression. Moonlight, while being a gay coming-of-age film, was really about intersectionality and toxic masculinity. Call Me by Your Name is only about first love, sometimes not even with aspirations towards different themes. It’s a movie that sucks you in with its craftsmanship, lets you bask in its true beauty, and then insists that you gaze upon its superficial beauty, all before proving just how powerful and worthwhile it really can be.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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