As of writing this review, the Australian Parliament has passed the law, allowing same-sex marriage. What great timing, right?
Anyway, Call Me By Your Name. This film has been gathering up critical buzz ever since it made its premiere splash at Sundance back in January. Then it showed at many other film festivals like Toronto International Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and our very own Sydney Film Festival (to which yours truly regretfully missed out on)
And now finally, near the end of the year, it’s finally here out on local release. Does the film live up to its rapturous hype with claims of passionate romance, astounding performances and emotionally stirring drama? Or will it succumb to be something underwhelming and be thrown away like the pit of a peach?
The film is set somewhere in 1983’s Northern Italy (it’s stated that way in the film and not due to my lack of research) and we follow Elio (Timothee Chalamet), a 17-year old boy who’s enjoying the Italian summer with his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar).
His father is a professor of archaeology and in every summer, he invites a student over for the summer to help out with his academic paperwork. This summer, he invites an American student, Oliver (Armie Hammer).
Elio, who’s a bit of an introvert due to his fascination with literature, doesn’t really click with Oliver due to his outgoing personality, but over a short amount of time, the two begin to have a growing desire for one another that will change their lives forever.
Does the film live up to its immense hype? Well, firstly, let me get down to the problems of the film just to get things moving. The film can be a bit overlong and…well…that’s basically it really, because overall, Call Me By Your Name is one of the best films of the year.
One of the main reasons why it succeeds with flying colours is because of Luca Guadagnino‘s unpretentious direction of the small story. Sure, the story may be about a romance that involves homosexuality, but it is exactly that. There are no prejudices, no conflicts arising from said element; it is simply a love story and the filmmakers treat it so.
The story is incredibly universal with its themes of first love, hidden sexual desires and coming-of-age elements and yet what Guagadnino has come up with has so much passion, so much feeling and so much heart, it makes the film much more eventful and fruitful than it really is.
What always makes first love so memorable are the sights and sounds that accompany it and in Call Me By Your Name, these are very notable indeed. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (famous for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and the upcoming Suspiria remake, also directed by Guagadnino) and shot compositions convey the small moments that stick; shots that linger on fruits, people and beautiful summer landscapes that make you almost feel like you’re being a voyeur, spying on these characters.
The blocking in many scenes (i.e. a scene where Elio and Oliver walk around a fountain) convey the development of the relationship perfectly, showing the distance and eventually closeness between the two characters.
Then there’s the sound design, which consists of buzzing insects, the breeze of the winds and even the sound of a peach being squeezed, it makes the small story feel like it’s brimming with fire and immerses you in with ease. And there’s of course, the soundtrack. All love stories have musical choices that one would remember with fondness and Call Me By Your Name has a couple of doozies. Although I do not want to spoil what songs they are, any film that has a song that featured in the dance film Flashdance gets a thumbs up from me.
The camera also lingers on the two leads as if they are the Greco-Roman statues that are being studied in the film, but unlike the statues, these are full-bodied characters and the film never lets you forget it. And while the interactions between the two never become prurient or salacious, it’s the chemistry between the two actors that make the film and bring it to life.
Armie Hammer has never been more charismatic and alluring here; playing Oliver as an charismatic and confident character who gradually reveals layers under the bravado. Whether he is owning the floor with his unruly dancing or impressing the adults with his American banter, it’s pretty easy to see why the attraction is there.
But really, the film truly belongs to Timothee Chalamet. He plays Elio as pure of heart, even when he is saddled with his naive perceptions on lust and adulthood, his actions ring genuine and true and Chalamet brings a nuanced and convincing portrayal of that. He never hides his feelings about Oliver, but when he tries to hide under a facade of denial, Chalamet hits the mark with his physical acting chops. There is a scene with just him involving a peach that conveys so much of the insecurities and contradictions of the character, that it is both beautiful, enthralling and slightly terrifying.
And while the supporting cast do well with their parts (including Esther Garrell as Marzia, who brings a timid innocence to her breezy character), the big standout is Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s intelligent and supportive father. In a five-minute scene in the third act, he basically steals the entire film with a monologue that shows love, compassion, understanding and regret all at once, and Stuhlbarg completely nails it.
Overall, Call Me By Your Name is a masterfully told story about first love, hidden sexual desire and coming-of-age experiences capped with great performances, immersive production values and nuanced direction that will surely dazzle the eyes, enchant your ears and warm your heart.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Call Me By Your Name is releasing in cinemas on Boxing Day, 26 December 2017.