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Review: Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Premise: Based on the book by André Aciman. Set in 1983, a seventeen year old (Timothée Chalamet) spends the summer at an Italian villa with his family and has a love affair with a graduate student (Armie Hammer).

What Works: Call Me By Your Name is about the intensity and heartbreak of first love. The movie takes place during the summer in northern Italy and the characters spend their days studying art and music, swimming and biking, and eating fresh food plucked from local gardens. It’s the ideal romantic setting for seventeen year old Elio to encounter his first love. The film is unabashedly carnal—but not exploitative—in the way it presents sexuality. This is a story about passion and it does an excellent job of capturing the vitality and intensity of young love. This is partly attributable to the way Call Me By Your Name is shot. The movie has a lush and organic feel that complements the love story. It’s beautifully photographed by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom in a way that picks up the rustic detail of the setting and the young bodies look like the ancient Greek sculptures that the professor and his graduate assistant spend their days studying. The other key to Call Me By Your Name’s success is its performances, in particular Timothée Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver, the graduate student that Elio falls in love with. Chalamet underplays the part in the right way; Elio’s passions and frustrations show through in the subtle details of Chalament’s performance and he captures the rawness of adolescent emotion. Hammer is also quite good as Oliver. Being older, he is more worldly wise and experienced in affairs of the heart but he gets caught up in the passion of the summer all the same. Also notable is the supporting performance by Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father. Stuhlbarg delivers a terrific monologue at the end of the film that is dramatically poignant without betraying the naturalistic style of the rest of the movie.  

What Doesn’t: Call Me By Your Name doesn’t follow any of the “rules” of a love story. In general, love stories are about people overcoming obstacles in order to be together. Call Me Be Your Name doesn’t follow that formula. There is no external conflict and very little internal conflict. Elio and Oliver meet and after a short while of deciphering each other’s intentions, they enter into a love affair. There’s a minor love triangle but it’s resolved easily. Elio’s parents don’t object to their son finding love with a considerably older man. Homophobia never figures into the story, which is refreshing, and Call Me By Your Name avoids some of the generic conflicts of romance in general and gay love stories in particular. However, Call Me By Your Name is dramatically inert for quite a bit of its running time. It’s only at the end, with summer coming to a close, that the story gets to some conflict. The moviemakers take a subtle approach to this love story and Call Me By Your Name’s lack of obvious plot points and the film’s unpronounced narrative structure will probably alienate some mainstream viewers.

Bottom Line: Call Me By Your Name is a subtle and sensitive romance. It captures love and heartbreak in a way that is authentic and the movie features some exceptional performances.

Episode: #682 (January 21, 2018)