As Huey Lewis once sang, the power of love is a curious thing, able to elicit a cacophony of emotions from an individual. Despite this, most movies have only a simplistic understanding of the concept, failing to convey its complexity. This Academy Award-nominated film is one of the few outliers in this regard, being quite smart in its approach.
In the European summer of 1983, Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) is spending his vacation with his parents at their holiday home in Northern Italy. This year, the Perlmans are being joined by Oliver (Armie Hammer), an academic assigned to help Elio’s dad, Samuel (Michael Stuhlbarg) – who himself is a professor of archaeology – with his studies. While warm and friendly, Oliver is also an odd fellow, often leaving people with the most succinct of farewells.
Despite his oddness, Elio cannot help but find himself drawn to Oliver, with the two spending much of their free time together. As their friendship continues to blossom, Elio finds himself being torn between his Italian girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garnel) and Oliver, possessing strong feelings for both. But as Elio expresses his feelings to Oliver, both men begin developing a sense of shame, leaving the former only more confused about his emotions.
Although it is partly produced and financed by an American crew, there’s a tone to Call Me By Your Name that makes it unmistakably European, perhaps due to the hiring of Luca Guadagnino as director. Guadagnino, who is Italian, crafts the film as if it were destined for his country alone, with few attempts made to Americanise the picture for a wider audience – the pacing is relaxed, the atmosphere soothing and the characters casual. The notion is further enforced by the dialogue, which switches between English, Italian and French.
Placing European sensibilities into the story comes as both a blessing and a curse, because the relaxed flow of Call Me By Your Name doesn’t do it any favours. This slowness makes the picture feel every bit as long as its two-hour length, which will leave less patient viewers very bored indeed. With that said, if this reviewer had the option of a breakneck pace or a more leisurely one, then he is more than likely to choose the latter option.
The most intriguing element of Call Me By Your Name is, of course, the relationship between Elio and Oliver. While it’s never made clear why the two are so attracted to each other, their romance does feel very real and intimate, rather than derogatory – much like Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Furthermore, it’s interesting to note how Elio is never, ever judged by the other characters for his feelings or actions, even when he himself feels ashamed.
Much has already been said about the performances in Call Me By Your Name – such praise can even be found in the poster above – but it bears repeating in this review. For such a young actor, Timothee Chalamet does brilliantly, especially in the final moments of the movie, where he must convey a multitude of emotions in a single take. Opposite him for much of the film is Armie Hammer, believable and likeable as Oliver, and just as deserving of an Oscar nomination as his co-star was.
One final aspect of Call Me By Your Name that is worthy of appreciation is the soundtrack. Featuring a combination of classical piano, Europop, New Wave hits and original songs by Sufjan Stevens, the music is able to match perfectly with the mood no matter what the setting – whether that be around the Perlmans’ home, or in the Italian countryside. Of the eclectic compositions, it is Stevens’ work which stands out most, channelling Simon & Garfunkel to create a very ethereal sound.
Unlike so many romantic-dramas, Call Me By Your Name does not trivialise love as an easily-understood emotion, instead exploring its many facets in this beautifully-made film. It also benefits from two talents leads, a grand soundtrack and a refreshing tone, but is slightly hampered by the somewhat slow pacing.