Charming 17th century stone villas, sweltering summer heat and the luscious greenery of the countryside “somewhere in northern Italy”: Such a scene is only fit for the most beautiful of summer romances. Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name,” based on the novel by André Aciman, encapsulates that very fantasy — with the artistry of European filmmaking rendering the film more of a creative masterpiece than simply a movie.
The story follows 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and his forbidden romance with 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer), who is studying abroad in Italy under Elio’s father. The film chronicles the courtship and eventual love story of Elio and Oliver over the course of their summer together, as young Elio grows more confident in himself and his identity. The slow-paced film involves little action and little dialogue, as the nuances of the character’s interactions coupled with Guadagnino’s remarkable cinematography speak for themselves. Set in 1983, the air of nostalgia that accompanies the effortless style and vibe of the Italian countryside in the 80s perfectly sets the tone for the wistful beauty of a life-changing summer fling.
Having already starred in several critically acclaimed films, such as fellow Best Picture nominee Lady Bird (2017) and Interstellar (2014), Chalamet’s dynamic performance was to be expected, as is his consequential nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Still, Chalamet is a treat to watch, capturing the mercurial tendencies of teenagers perfectly. He masterfully switches between an unsure, defensive boy struggling with his sexual identity to an aloof, flirtatious figure. Even when there is little action in the scene, Chalamet’s facial expressions and body language support his character development in ways that speak volumes on their own, perfectly complementing Guadagnino’s minimalist approach to the film.
While Chalamet’s performance would have earned “Call Me by Your Name” an Oscar nomination on its own, the deliberate cinematography drives its candidacy home. At times, the storyline can be slow and lumbering, but this simply allows the audience more time to fully appreciate each frame. The stifling heat of the Italian summer and leisurely pace of village life is accentuated through vivid imagery that places the audience alongside the characters. It is as if the movie is constructed through vignettes, where the mundane becomes larger than life. In a particular scene, the early morning sounds of distant voices and shuffling accompany Hammer’s silent struggle with doubt, while blue light bathes the entire frame.
Apart from stunning visuals, Guadagnino’s approach to more risqué scenes demonstrates a maturity in his cinematography that is seldom seen in modern film. While he does not shy away from more intimate scenes, a simple camera pan to the window of a bedroom adds an air of privacy to the moment, where the viewer is left to their own imagination rather than unnecessarily graphic imagery. Guadagnino’s balance in his approach to Elio and Oliver’s romance manages to remove the taboo of their sexuality, while adding a layer of mystery and intimacy to their relationship.
Accompanying the rich and artistic visuals is a exquisite soundtrack. Not only is the film musical with its incorporation of Italian, French and Latin dialogue in addition to English, Elio’s personal passion for music is accentuated through numerous vignettes of him at the piano and playing the guitar. The sheer musicality of the film itself, due in large part to its European flare, leaves few scenes without a complementary tune playing in the background. In the film’s final scene, Sufjan Steven’s “Visions of Gideon” plays as young Elio stares silently into the camera, every emotion flooding his face one after another. For the few scenes that do lack such melodies, their absence is intentional and musical in itself—the patter of feet on stone villa staircases, bike wheels spinning and summer fans whirring almost a symphony of their own.
Thematically, the film must be lauded for the way in which it normalizes homosexual relationships. The conflicts between Chalamet and Hammer are relatable to a wider audience, and thus, the film does not pigeonhole itself as a movie for the LGBT+ community. Looking for signs of romantic interest, a premature end to a relationship, and having a life-changing experience are all universally relatable events, ensuring that “Call Me by Your Name” strikes a chord with every viewer. Throughout the film, the emphasis is placed purely on the progression of Elio and Oliver’s romance rather than the same-sex nature of the relationship. Even in Elio’s father’s final monologue, the fact that Elio’s attraction is to another man is irrelevant in his ode to romance and intimacy. In this way, Guadagnino does not attempt to politicize his movie: he simply tells the love story.
Simply put, the elements of “Call Me by Your Name” complement each other as effortlessly as Oliver complements Elio: Chalamet’s nuanced acting pairs naturally with Guadagnino’s minimalistic European style, music flawlessly accompanying each vignette. The result is a beautiful love story, full of passion and emotion: one certainly worthy of an academy award.
“Call Me by Your Name”
2 hours, 12 minutes
Rated: R for for sexual content, nudity and some language
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Written by James Ivory
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer