Call Me by Your Name
Recall your simplest, fondest memory. Maybe it’s an afternoon spent driving with your dad, or a sticky summer evening on the parking deck of your hometown. Remember what the air felt like, what hushed sounds filled out the buzzing background, how it felt to exist in a moment so lived in that it seemed to spread infinitely.
This is what Call Me by Your Name invokes, as it offers its viewers beautiful bits of summer bliss shot on 35mm film. Set in Italy during the summer of 1983, the motion picture stars Timothée Chalamet as Elio Perlman, the pensive piano-playing son of an archaeologist (Michael Stuhlbarg), and Armie Hammer as Oliver, an exuberant American graduate student studying under Elio’s father. Oliver disturbs the serenity of Elio’s summer home, carrying an abrasive overconfidence which can sharpen at a moment’s notice. But Elio and Oliver’s relationship evolves from one of tension to one of romance, and Oliver’s nonchalance toward Elio gradually transforms into deep caring. Chalamet plays off of Hammer’s suave demeanor with his best impression of what one would call a 1980s sadboi. The film captures both the nuances of this blossoming intimacy and of each character’s personal growth. This narrative of elegant simplicity and teenage tragedy quickly made Call Me by Your Name my favorite film of 2017.
Visually, the film beams with stunning reality. At a family dinner, Elio’s grandfather makes a subtle claim which reveals the film’s artistic intent: “Cinema should be a mirror for reality.” This reality is depicted by an honest reflection of time as subject to the biases of human memory Certain moments are extended for what seems like blissful eternities, while weeks pass without mention. Warmth emanates from every corner of Call Me by Your Name, and the sweetness of summer is not dissuaded by its equally as-evident stickiness. These moments serve as the truest representations of what it is to love and live I have seen in film.
The film is undeniably one of sexual exploration, from men to women to fruit. If you haven’t already heard, I’ll tell you now — things get steamy between Elio and a peach. However, the frequent scenes depicting intimacy often averting from the sexual act itself. This sense of privacy allows for the focus of the film’s physicality to reflect on its emotional impact on the characters. While the plot’s nominal centerpiece is of a gay romance, the film is as much about the nature of Elio and Oliver’s relationship as it is its impact on Elio. This conscious choice works to both normalize gay romance and sexual experimentation in mainstream cinema. The joy, love, and heartbreak of Call Me by Your Name can occur between any two people, regardless of gender. This allows for the film to explore Elio’s emotional maturation — with and separated from Oliver.
The complex nature of Oliver and Elio’s relationship is met with profound understanding from Elio’s father. At the end of the film, Stuhlbarg delivers a striking monologue that provides one of its most tender moments. It’s a powerful encouragement of owning emotions, warning against the suppression of identity in the name of easing pain. He advises Elio to fully feel the love and loss of Oliver in his claim: “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything — what a waste!”
I remember sitting in the textured red seats of my hometown’s cinema and weeping.
The simplicity of the soundtrack reinforces the elegance that sweeps viewers off their feet. Piano notes sprinkle the background of transpiring events, a fitting motif given Elio’s love of the instrument. The pieces recorded for Call Me by Your Name run with the same summery grace that the film works to uphold. This music is broken only by Sufjan Stevens’ voice. In addition to a new arrangement of his 2010 song, “Futile Devices,” he composed two new original tracks: “Mystery of Love”, which has since been nominated for an Oscar for Best Song, and “Visions of Gideon.” Stevens’s gentle vocals and cryptic lyrics perfectly complement the tenderness of the film.
Watching Elio and Oliver interact almost feels like a privilege, as the film fosters the sensation of steep intimacy. Call Me by Your Name depicts emotional and sexual maturation in a way that evoked a considerable amount of self reflection in me. In the context of my own current state as a university student, it is incredibly easy to become engulfed in the desire to discover yourself immediately — to understand exactly who you are and what you’re doing while always attempting to land on your feet. This film is an imposing force which reminds me to indulge my emotions, to feel misfortunes fully and to learn from them. And in a sea of contemporary coming-of-age stories, this is what has made Call Me By Your Name resonate so deeply and universally.