What can I say about Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name without being accused of sounding hopelessly enamoured of this most true and tender of love stories? To get the particulars out of the way and move on to the dreamy stuff of the film itself, Call Me By Your Name was adapted by the great James Ivory from a novel by André Aciman, and while Ivory deserves a column to himself for the wonderful films he’s written and directed, A Room With A View (1986) and Remains of the Day (1993) being among my most treasured period films, I must move on from my lingering nostalgia for these lusciously orchestrated, exquisitely crafted films.
Nominated as one of the nine films in the Best Picture category this year (it lost to The Shape of Water), Guadagnino’s observant, funny, warm, audaciously intellectual and sensual film is about a relationship between two young men, the seventeen year old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), and a young American graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer),who comes to stay with Elio’s parents and help his cerebral archaeologist father in a small town in northern Italy.
Most films are successful because their scripts are strong, here the film has the added benefit (in addition to Ivory’s dazzling, almost virtuoso writing) of being shot in keeping with the actual sequence of events (as opposed to a schedule that prioritises the proximity and availability of locations), and on a single 35mm lens that allows for wide shots that enable the actors to roam outside the usual constraints, allowing for an ease and spontaneity that can sometimes be absent from more traditional set-ups.
While a film like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread benefits from such structure, Call Me By Your Name thrives and comes alive under this kind of direction, giving the viewer a sense of closely getting to know the characters as they move through their sun-drenched idyllic lives, that is, until both Elio and Oliver fall helplessly in love with each other against their own better judgement.
This is not the usual, cloying ‘coming of age’ film where Elio enters into a rite of passage that opens the doorway into his adulthood, it is instead an exploration of what it means to fall deeply in love, and all the uncertainties, bliss, heartache, and glory that surrounds this mind-altering human act. While the film is indeed the unforgettable story of Elio and Oliver, it is supported by an indescribably fine supporting cast including a gentle, wise performance by Michael Stuhlbard as Elio’s erudite father Mr. Perlman, and the gorgeous Amira Casar as his brilliant, stunning, compassionate mother, Annella.
Call Me By Your Name like all genuine works of art, is a story that is not bound by the gender of its protagonists, though it is defined in some ways by the luscious depictions of the Italian countryside. One could argue that few films go wrong in such a setting, but that kind of negativity is for the small of heart.