Movie Review: Call Me by Your Name
By: Bisshoy Anwar
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Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name disregards so many of Hollywood’s rules that by the thirty minute mark, it is less a movie than a collection of events involving two people, the main characters Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) and Elio (played by a catapulted-to-fame Timothée Chalamet). Over the course of Elio’s summer vacation in 1980’s Italy, he and Oliver (a student of Elio’s father who stays with the family) both…well…
Well, they exist. And largely, that’s about it. Describing the “plot” becomes difficult when wanting something more concrete than a very nebulous concept of “plot.” As previously stated, the Hollywood-isms that weigh down so many blockbusters today are nowhere to be seen, allowing what is ultimately just a case study of a young man’s first time dipping his toes into the wonderful— if occasionally painful— feeling of love. Throughout his vacation, Elio explores more of himself, especially who he becomes in the presence of Oliver and, eventually, who he becomes outside of that presence. The film is slow-moving dedicates a lot of time to the ennui and minutiae of life, going through all the tiny, boring details of life with a loving eye. And here is one criticism of the film, that sometimes it gives into its meandering qualities a little too much. To be fair, it’s Oscar bait. Very, very well done Oscar bait, but Oscar bait nonetheless. A little artistic whimsy is to be expected.
That said, the characters themselves are surprisingly free of pretension, and this is less to do with the writing and more to do with the amazing performances of its two leads. Armie Hammer’s Oliver is initially presented as a stereotypically masculine American figure, the “man’s man” in the light, carefree Italian atmosphere. However, as the film goes on, Hammer steadily peels back the layers of his character, eventually revealing a man beset by as many insecurities and unknowns as his younger lover.
And on the topic of Chalamet, this is really his movie. He plays Elio to perfection, giving the audience a portrait of a young man who has no idea who he is beyond a hazy outline. Chalamet’s Elio is the personification of the meandering nature of the film, simply walking from one moment to the next, a vague target ahead of him but wobbly feet to walk towards it with. He ambles through the film, through his romance with Oliver, through his journey with a simultaneous earnestness and cynicism. Admittedly, Elio is played so realistically that sometimes it’s hard to make out exactly who he is behind all the nuance of human behavior. In my opinion, this makes him an even better character.
The style of the film gives much to the atmosphere, with 1980’s Italy a vibrant city of slightly baggy polo shirts and jean shorts. This isn’t the hyperactive 80’s that some movies will have to believe in; this is the real 80’s, the one that had the darkness of the Cold War and the AIDS scare and Madonna’s rise to power. The characters all embody the elan one would expect from wealthy academics vacationing in Italy and you somehow don’t want to punch them in the face for it because damn do they look good.
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography is also a highlight of the film, with bright, slightly saturated colors bringing the setting to life, giving it a vibrancy that brings out all of the sad and all of the beautiful moments to prominence. There’s one scene where Elio is watching Oliver dance with a woman at a party, and the hectic lights work as well on Oliver’s frenetic moves as they do on Elio’s dark contemplative expression. I’ve never seen anything shot by Mukdeeprom before, and that is a mistake I swore to fix after watching this film.
And the music. Dear GOD the music. I could go on about the actual score (which is lovely), but the real show is stolen by the songs contributed by Sufjan Stevens, a depressed hipster’s favorite singer-songwriter. His lyrics and quiet voice bring out all those emotions I’ve spent 21 years of my life repressing, and they perfectly encapsulate the depth of the emotions that Elio and Oliver share.
All in all, while Call Me By Your Name may be a bit slow for some tastes, the beauty of the feelings displayed are so raw and real and personal that the movie feels like it was tailor-made for you. It may make you cry, but it’s a must watch because of that.