"If you only knew how little I know about the things that matter."
One of my biggest regrets of 2016 was not reviewing Luca Guadagnino’s film ‘A Bigger Splash’ as it was truly excellent. In fact it’s odd I never did considering that his previous directorial outing ‘I Am Love’ was my fourth favourite movie of 2010. But regardless, his latest film ‘Call Me By Your Name’ has received high praise since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival and has been growing a reputation as one of the year’s top awards contenders.
It's the summer of 1983, and 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) is spending the days with his family at their 17th-century villa in Lombardy, Italy. He soon meets Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome doctoral student who's working as an intern for Elio's father. Amid the sun-drenched splendour of their surroundings, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.
I love a director who can explore similar themes and ideas throughout their filmography, presenting them in differing forms without ever repeating themselves. That is the case with Guadagnino so far as his movies have all emphasised the how such a distance can exist between people who are attracted to one another. He’s a filmmaker that possesses such a mastery of craft that his movies feel less like constructed pieces of cinema and more like some kind of transcendent spell. They absorb the viewer in this lushly textured world and seem almost all encompassing in the form they take.
I’m almost struggling to explain precisely how Guadagnino achieves this feat. There’s a patient sense of melancholy to ‘Call Me By Your Name’ but at no point does it feel bleak. It’s emotionally devastating at times but just as light and joyful at others. Most directors may seem intimidated by the wide breadth of human emotion to be found in this story but Guadagnino seems to take it in his stride, creating a films that flows and progresses so gracefully that it washed over me yet still had plenty of time to sink in and leave a lasting impression.
Guadagnino dresses the film with numerous symbols and visual metaphors for the central story at hand, but they never feel overbearing or heavy handed. They are evocative and powerful but never detract from the surface level drama either. But due to the way Guadagnino composes each shot they never fail to leave an impact. Even if the imagery fails to tug at your heartstrings then the fantastic soundtrack by Sufjan Stevens will, creating such a wistful atmosphere that complements the mood of each scene pitch perfectly.
At this point in the review I find myself thinking of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ as a movie of perfect contradictions. Not within its plot or themes but just the form of how this incredible story is presented and how well Guadagnino grapples these conflicting ideologies. Despite feeling so elegant and meditative the movie still has a brutally honest depiction of a gay romance. Both through the emotional weight of discovering one’s own identity, the giddy excitement of a crush moulding into a declaration of love and the nervousness over whether those feelings might be reciprocated. The sexual side of Elio and Oliver’s affair is also presented honestly without ever feeling overtly pornographic.
Another contradiction is how Guadagnino is able to create a film with such a depth of feel and yet maintain such a level of intimacy. This applies to the visuals as well as the movie’s substance. I actually found myself thinking of the movie in the same light as ‘Carol’ and ‘Moonlight’ not for their subject matter, but their ability to render artful images and enthuse them with emotional weight so as to make them feel involving. Everything about the movie’s visual presentation transports you directly to its environment and at the centre of that we find these two characters brilliantly framed and intricately explored.
As ever though, it’s in the performances where’ Call Me By Your Name’ cements itself as a future classic. Timothee Chalamet conveys every emotional beat of Elio’s odyssey perfectly, bringing a sense of naivety to the role that enriches it even further. Armie Hammer exudes confidence and charisma as ever, but what elevates his turn as Oliver to his best performance yet is the amount of tenderness and vulnerability to be found underneath that. It’s never difficult to see why the two characters would be attracted to one another on a deeper level and we find ourselves fully invested in their budding romance. But the most emotional moment in the movie might be from Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father, who in a heart rendering scene bears his soul for his son, and the audience to see with the same sense of brutal honesty that underpins the entire movie and makes it the masterpiece that it is.
Stunningly crafted in every way and given such emotional weight by the phenomenal performances of its cast, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is a modern classic.