Arts movie review

A long summer fling

‘Call Me by Your Name’ delivers gorgeous spectacle in depicting intimate romance

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Timothée Chalamet (left) bonding with Armie Hammer (right).
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Call Me by Your Name
Directed By Luca Guadagino
Written By James Ivory
Starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer
Rated R

Adapted from André Aciman’s novel of the same title, Call Me by Your Name explores a homosexual romance over the course of a summer in rural Italy during the ’80s. Elio (Timothée Chalamet), an intellectual Italian 17-year-old, finds himself immediately attracted to Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old American who is helping Elio’s father as a temporary research assistant. Elio’s confusion and humiliation about his feelings propel his coming-of-age as he simultaneously juggles maintaining his relationship with Marzia, his girlfriend, and his encounters with Oliver. Buoyed by superb performances from Chalamet and Hammer, the film contains scenes that are both narratively powerful and stylistically appealing.

One of the most immediately striking features of Call Me by Your Name is its audiovisual direction. The film combines a lush orchestral score evocative of Elio’s fondness for classical music with songs by Sufjan Stevens, who is known for his work in many genres, including indie folk and baroque pop. Stevens’s tender voice and touching lyrics contribute a great deal of poignancy to scenes. This meshing of different styles is not simply for ambience either; it helps to establish the unification of Elio’s precociousness with his desire for young love. On the visual front, the film contains beautiful cinematography that captures the Italian countryside in all its resplendent glory. Excellent camerawork gives scenes great staying power: long takes heighten emotions during a bike race and Elio’s final scene. The camera occasionally loses focus during the physical encounters between Elio and Oliver, conveying a nostalgic intimacy through the graininess. These vibrant stylistic choices work naturally with the story’s visual imagery and symbolism, such as scenes involving fruit or swimming.

Concerning narrative elements, the film is more focused on fleshing out characters than creating significant plot points. The two lead characters both reel back from continuing further in their relationship at different points in the movie, and it emphasizes their subsequent reactions rather than specific events. For example, after Oliver begins avoiding Elio, Elio preoccupies himself by spending time in his familiar hobbies and swimming with Marzia. Due to this focus on characters, most of the film depends on the performances of Chalamet and Hammer, who both succeed with flying colors. Chalamet in particular is masterful at capturing Elio’s inner turmoil, as he goes from confidently flirting with Oliver to passive-aggressively lashing out at his parents for inviting a gay couple over. Resembling a young Harrison Ford, Hammer is also quite capable in exuding confidence and expressing romantic interest as Oliver. The downside of the film’s approach to storytelling is that there is very little dramatic tension at times, which makes viewing a slog when combined with the film’s tendency to excess. There are so many scenes involving mundane activities such as eating lunch or swimming that the film feels overly long at points.

It is somewhat misleading to say this, but the most powerful part of the film is its ending. There are two scenes in particular that are worth mentioning: the speech given by Elio’s father and the closing credits. Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Elio’s father, delivers a monologue that is emotionally cathartic and moving. During the credits, Chalamet’s ability to impart so much emotion in doing an act as simple as staring into a fireplace is astonishing, and Stevens’s “Visions of Gideon” enhances the scene to great extent. These two scenes make waiting through the slow-moving sections worth the trouble. If one can get past the film’s uneventful nature, the film will reward with audiovisual splendor and superb acting.