Call Me by Your Name Review
Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name is set in the early 80s in northern Italy in a world full of open doors, wind blown fruit trees, and the ambient mischief of summertime. This place (where food is so juicy it runs down your chin and intellectual sparring is considered romance) is host to pleasurable life over which classical music is always playing and the kinetic bodies of the two leads more closely resemble race horses than humans.
Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is a professor’s son and a solemn polymath who spends his days transcribing music and waiting for the summer to end. When his father’s graduate assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) comes to stay for six weeks, Elio begins exploring new feelings of sexual and emotional awakening. Reminiscent of Edmund White’s Nocturnes For The King Of Naples, it is a film explanative of the brutality of innocence and the chaos of emotion, the furor of first love and whom to spend it on, and the necessary hard work of growing up and knowing oneself.
The most moving part about James Ivory’s writing combined with Chalamet and Hammer’s performances is how obvious it is that Elio and Oliver are getting different things out of their affair. Whereas Oliver is charming and exultant in Elio’s innocent affection, Elio’s entire body radiates with the all-consuming force of first love; images of him crouched with Oliver’s swim trunks stuffed in his face or hollowing out a peach and using it to masturbate in Oliver’s absence or spontaneously vomiting when he realizes Oliver will eventually have to leave bring forth a universal discussion of the arresting power emotion has over the human body.
Call Me by Your Name is based on a novel of the same name by André Aciman, which is narrated in the first person by a middle aged Elio. Few changes have been made in action or dialogue, and Elio’s descriptions of his own body and its mechanisms are metered and cogent and probably provided many building blocks for Ivory and Guadagnino and Chalamet to begin thinking about his character.
The countryside and 80s film stylization bolster the aesthetic of this film; Rohmer’s Pauline At The Beach (1983) is particularly similar in describing the ways that strangers descend upon a beautiful place and wreak havoc upon each other’s love lives. Guadagnino cites Jacques Rivette as an influence, as well as Bertolucci, Renoir, and Pialet. He is also (unsurprisingly) a fan of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) and nearly included a similar omniscient narration by Sufjan Stevens.
Instead, Sufjan created two beautiful new compositions which define the tone of the film. Sandwiched between 80s Italian pop, compositions by Ryuichi Sakamoto pulled from Nagisa Oshima’s weird and wonderful Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), a Psychedelic Furs song, and copious classical Bach and André Laplante and Szervanszky, Sufjan’s voice acts as our guide. Championed as the master of transparency in his personal work, Sufjan is an equally bold and appropriate choice to lead us through the caprice and mercuriality of first love. When contrasting Call Me By Your Name to similar coming of age films (Hansen-Løve’s saccharine Bergman ripoff Un Amour De Jeunesse (2011) comes to mind) the addition of Sufjan’s score offers great tonal breadth and opportunity for complexity.
Joan Didion once spoke of honest and vulnerable accounts of life which, “...like a forgotten bank account full of accumulated interest,” offer paid passage back to a facet of our humanity which we forgot. Call Me by Your Name is perhaps the best account of first love ever because it describes this universal experience in such a clear and unwavering conceit. It is proof that elevation need not sacrifice realism.