I have loved you for the last time
Is it a video? Is it a video?
I have touched you for the last time
Is it a video? Is it a video?
Song lyrics from Sufjan Stevens' "Visions of Gideon"
First love has rarely been captured on film with the rapturously aching accuracy found in "Call Me by Your Name." Luminous, breathtaking, and so extraordinarily intimate one can scarcely believe something so miraculous has been captured in front of a camera by actors, the picture is close to a miracle. Director Luca Guadagnino (2010's "I Am Love
"), who is incapable of crafting an aesthetically ugly image, and writer James Ivory (1998's "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries
"), adapting from André Aciman's Lambda Literary Award-winning 2007 novel, have fashioned a coming-of-age tale of lived-in depth and astonishing sensuality. In its own lovingly gentle yet shrewdly observant way, "Call Me by Your Name" holds the power to haunt and devastate for days.
Northern Italy, 1983.
17-year-old Italian-American Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) whiles away his sultry summer days swimming, reading novels, writing music, and hanging out with friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Into the charming 17th-century villa where he lives with his parents comes Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American doctoral student who has traveled abroad to intern for Elio's history professor father (Michael Stuhlberg). As Elio spends time with Oliver, acting as his makeshift tour guide and companion, they begin to circle one another, their hesitant relationship eventually developing into something deeper than friends.
To watch "Call Me by Your Name" is to get lost for 132 minutes in the lives of characters so true and sympathetic they cease to feel like fictional creations. By the end, they've become a part of us. Guadagnino and Ivory fully immerse the viewer in a world at once spellbindingly picturesque and strikingly identifiable, every emotion they conjure and every sun-dappled 35mm image captured by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom a gift from the cinema gods. And what emotions! Here is a film without a single contrived or falsely manufactured moment, the leisurely rhythms of its pacing allowing one to drink in the ebbs and flows of life, the joys and pains of growing up, and the initial uncertainties and ultimate catharses of finding one's own identity. Days after seeing the film, its sheer memory is enough to elicit a physical reaction, and how often do movies have that sort of lingering power?
It is from Elio's perspective which the story is exclusively told, and Timothée Chalamet (2015's "Love the Coopers
") is remarkable in the role. Never seeming to be acting, ably conveying everything his character is going through without having to utter a syllable, Chalamet keys into the tenderness, the longing, and the youthful curiosity and experimentation of a teenage boy trying to reconcile the feelings he is going through. As a character, Elio is wholly three-dimensional, at once a true original and, in certain ways, archetypal of anyone who has ever desired another and then fallen in love. Surrounded by peoplehis progressive father and mother Annella (Amira Casar); their scholarly friends; the laid-back, academic Oliver; gal pal Marzia, who confides in Elio that she likes to read but doesn't tell many people after he gifts her with a bookwho share an enthusiasm in knowledge, Elio is a refreshingly intelligent product of his cultured upbringing.
What Elio doesn't have are all the answers, and for a long while he cannot quite figure the magnetic, handsome Oliver out. Director Luca Guadagnino crucially allows each scene to breathe and develop naturally, never trying to rush to the next plot point, always empathetic to the hearts and minds on the screen. There is a terrific scene where the two of them, spending the day together, figuratively dance around one another as Elio confides who he is to Oliver without coming out and matter-of-factly stating it, his measured but courageous words quietly reverberating from his lips several times thereafter so that only he can hear.
The chemistry between Chalamet and Armie Hammer (2016's "Nocturnal Animals
"), perfect in every way as Oliver, is white-hot to the point of hitting nuclear levels. The picture takes its time getting to the moments between them when they let their guards down and act on their attraction; Oliver is at first slightly tentative, perhaps because of their age difference (he is around 24, Elio is not quite 18) and an understandable concern for how it may be perceived if Elio's parents found out. As their connection intensifies and Elio, in no uncertain terms, finally initiates an encounter which goes beyond flirting, no onenot Oliver, and not the viewercan deny how right they are together. As Elio's father, Michael Stuhlbarg (2016's "Arrival
") knocks out of the park a nearly eleventh-hour heart-to-heart with his son that is so pure, so wise, so cleansing, and so poetically delivered it will no doubt be one of the film's premier centerpieces of laudatory conversation.
"Call Me by Your Name" is a motion picture to cherish. Soulful and profound, it understands with pinpoint veracity the indescribability of losing oneself for the first time in another. Whether it's a love that lasts forever or proves sorely temporary, it's a moment which, once gone, can never be gotten back. Relatively late in the film as summer reaches its twilight and Oliver prepares to head back to the U.S., they question why it took so long to let their feelings be known, goading each other in good humor but also regret for all the time they wasted being afraid to speak their truth. There is a tragic undercurrent to the film's stunning, stirring, eloquent and heartbreaking third act, one that has nothing to do with a melodramatic illness, injury or death and everything to do with the cruel fate of living in a critical world where not everyone feels comfortable to live authentically.
Accompanied by an intoxicating soundtrack just right for its 1983 settingThe Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way" is used twice to marvelously complementary effect, while Sujfan Stevens' sublimely moving original songs become the story's unofficial anthems for loves gained and lost"Call Me by Your Name" is that rarest of films that deserves to be called a masterpiece. Elio and Oliver feel so very real, and mean so very much, they seem even now to be uncontained by the limits of the opening and closing credits. Indeed, one can almost imagine them still existing in 2017, by now graying and in their fifties, when all their worries and the sacrifices they had to make as young men no longer mean anything in the scheme of the once-in-a-lifetime love they shared and might have, in a different time and under different circumstances, been able to hold onto for always.