Gorgeous cinematography, superb acting, and a quietly contemplative script elevate Call Me by Your Name to greatness. It’s a classic romance film for those who never get to receive them. Catch this one in theaters if you can.
The Good: The acting, cinematography, direction, art design, script. Everything, in short.
Call Me by Your Name is, above all else, beautiful, in its aesthetic, authenticity, and characterizations. This is all the more impressive, given its simplicity.
Here is the plot: Timothée Chalamet plays a 17-year-old young man who has a crush. His crush flirts with him. They sleep together. They go on a trip. The crush leaves. Chalamet cries over what he thinks is his first love. But its ok. Because summer love.
That’s it. It’s a story you’ve seen a dozen times before, and with far less plot than typical. There’s no tough father to win over, or town-wide ban on dance, or Patrick Swayze ghosts. There are simply pretty people who like – maybe even love – each other.
Everything about the film highlights its simplicity. The lighting seems to be natural – scenes are often far too dark to tell what is happening visually. The scenery, though beautiful (as rural Italian summers tend to be), is simple. The colors are likely true of location, and not touched up. The sun is harsh sometimes, and blinds the camera.
This natural cinematography and aesthetic leads to a feeling of authenticity. This is not a Hollywood tale of love. It is more truthful than that.
The scene of the perfect specimen sexualized person leaving the pool is there (expect played by other-worldly pretty Armie Hammer instead of the prototypical woman), but the camera does not linger through a slow motion shot. It does not move up the body as beads of water fall off, hair shaking. Because, that’s not what happens in real life.
In the same vein, the summer love is classic, but presented in a completely novel form. Chalamet embodies both typical tropes while adding a modern – and welcome – twist. He is both the secluded awkward teen and the pining love-struck dreamer, typically portrayed by men and women respectively. Similarly, Hammer portrays the hyper masculine hunk and the coy, sexualized tease, again portrayed by men and women respectively.
Both actors, then, portray an unique mixture of masculine and feminine character tropes, forming complex and complete characters.
In the name of brevity, suffice it to say that the rest of the film is equally interesting. Career beginning-or-best performances abound, beautiful music, and emotional honesty are all the highlights.
Yet none are the peak. That belongs to Michael Stuhlbarg, playing Chalamet’s father. Look out for spoilers here, but know that his monologue is one of the greatest moments on film in 2017. It is worth seeing for this alone.
The Bad: It’s a nearly perfect film. A slow beginning and a lead that’s hard to connect to are the only substantive issues.
Chalamet’s character is an interesting case study in the importance of empathizing with a character.
It would be generous to say that 90% of folks cannot connect with most parts of Chalamet’s character. The family is rich enough to live part-time in an Italian villa, have at least two hired (and possibly live-in?) hands, and to comfortably host a student annually. The parents are both amazingly supportive and progressive. Their son is brilliant and has many friends.
As a result of this near-fantasy, there is little conflict for Chalamet externally. At the root of any connective tissue with a character are the struggles they go through. The audience has either shared that struggle, or can understand or recognize what feelings that issue may cause.
The lack of external conflict for Chalamet requires the audience to connect only with his internal struggles. This is hard to pull off, though the film manages to do so admirably. Nonetheless, there are times in which the sheer splendor of his surroundings strains the audience’s ability to empathize. Yes, anyone can understand the joy and despair of summer love – but is it so bad when you have a fantasy life?
The Ugly: Pretty amazing to see a love story that does not use a single label.
The most interesting thing by far about Call Me by Your Name is how it shirks labels. This is not a “gay” romance film, akin to how Brokeback Mountain was marketed, for example. The characters never identify their sexuality, as this would derail the point of the story. By ignoring this aspect, it begs the audience to do away with the baggage that comes with labels.
The protagonist and the person(s) whom he desires do not seem to be worried about labels. Neither his parents, his friends, nor the local population seem to be worried about labels. It is a film that celebrates the spectrum of love, both romantic and platonic. That, above all else, makes it incredibly special.
“CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, the new film by Luca Guadagnino, is a sensual and transcendent tale of first love, based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman. It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.” – Rotten Tomatoes