by Hogan Short
VANCOUVER – Call Me by Your Name is a film directed by Luca Guadagino, based on the novel by the same name. The story takes place in 1983, so in every way—from the technology available to the clothes the characters wear—this is a period piece. Making a film set in a different time consistently proves to be a difficult hill to climb. There is an added struggle to achieve the authenticity of the time, but when it pays off it can leave you feeling remiss and nostalgic of the past. The story takes place “somewhere in Northern Italy” which also makes Call Me by Your Name a drama relying heavily on location. This again creates the burden to believably place our characters in a specific setting and the story must now be better served by placing us in Italy. We must long to be in each scene, wishing we could be there, or to feel as if we have been there in another life. Add to these ambitious plot points the need for incredible performances to back a uniquely beautiful love story and you have a film clearly taking every risk to conjure a masterpiece. The film is ethereal and slow burning as we watch and hope for these risks to turn into something perfect, much like the feeling of actual summer love.
Call Me by Your Name is about a young boy named Elio, played flawlessly by Timothée Chalamet (Homeland), who lazily spends his days casually playing and transcribing music or meandering through the sun drenched countryside. Elio’s simple life becomes complicated when his father-professor’s American research assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer, The Social Network) arrives and is a thorn in Elio’s side. Oliver is effortlessly charming and mostly keeps to himself, clearly comfortable on his own. Any animosity between Elio and Oliver goes unexplained until we realize there is no problem with Oliver himself, but how he makes Elio feel. Elio is instantly impressed with Oliver and it doesn’t matter that they are both men or that there is an obvious age gap between them. This tension exists because true love to anyone creates something and this film perfectly captures the essence of what that means. We are not spoon fed this information but we feel it and we are assured it as the story unravels.
Elio’s initial moments of getting to know Oliver is shared with the audience. We see Oliver have a conversation with the professor about the origin of the word “apricot”. This scene shows Oliver’s confidence and charm and also proves it’s narrative merit as a nuanced and balanced story that tells us everything, using complex characters and not forced exposition. The professor explains in an educated matter of how the word “apricot” came to be known as it is today. The writing in this scene shows us the father’s brilliance and his love of knowledge. We see them being served fresh apricot juice by the mother of the house, an example of their family dynamic and their wealth. We then see Oliver brilliantly tell the professor that normally his logic would be correct but in this instance of the word “apricot” he is mistaken. He then proceeds to tell an even more intelligent reason for the origin of this particular word. This proves Oliver’s impressiveness and willingness to let it shine, without being boastful about it but because he too has the knowledge and loves to speak on it. We see for the first time Elio cannot help to contain his excitement over Oliver. When the professor wryly smiles and anoints Oliver we see this special situation they now all share and Oliver is different than all of the other assistants. The film continues on subtleties like this that continue to tell us everything we need to know about the minds of these characters in magical and interesting ways, never being obvious.
The film strikes the perfect tones by displaying perfect costume and production design. The sun smashes into the stones and bricks of the Italian buildings sitting in the middle of vineyards and orchards. Locals move through the shots, keeping to themselves, while our main characters bike and stroll through the beautiful backdrops. Elio and Oliver wear high tops, tube socks and colourful button down collared cotton shirts that are so perfectly summer and perfectly in line with the fashion of the ’80s. Seeing them look so timelessly perfect, dancing to classics like “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs will either take you back or make you wish you were around. The ’80s also didn’t have the technology we do now and this only adds to the romance and impulsive European way of living. The lack of phones and computers forces the characters to read books poolside in the sun. They are forced to find one another and look for their pedal bikes, or absence of them, to make them aware of their presence. This is a romance that is close to us in time but can no longer exist. We know the clothes, we know the songs but we can never know a romance like this anymore because the possibility of that world no longer exists. The feeling of yearning for a time, place, and romance like the budding one between Elio and Oliver is felt even harder this way. We are now so consumed with texting and phones and everything else that this slow burning love becomes all the rarer, and more beautiful, to us.
Call Me By Your Name is sexy and hot and the honesty of their words and minds makes it never once feel inappropriate because of Elio being only seventeen. The long takes gives these actors room to play and live honestly in their love. They are allowed the the space to wander and attract and toy with each other until we are holding our breath just waiting for them to accept it and hold each other. Even the film’s side characters are held with regard by both the story and Elio. Elio’s disinterest and leading on of the young and beautiful girl is sad and we feel pity for her. It is not fair but life is not fair and love certainly isn’t fair. Unreciprocated love is another relatable aspect of life the film treats with effortless subtly. That brutal honesty is addressed but so is the comfort of accepting that we are all capable of feeling it. Whatever poignant sadness you may be feeling it is all surrounded by the few times we hear ideal original tracks from Sufjan Stevens, particularly the song “Mystery of Love” which is so accurately titled.
The idea of summer love is the same to all of us and yet always felt different depending on where we may be in our lives. Hopefully everyone catches a glimpse of it whether in a fleeting crush or an unforgettable romance but it is always thought about, at least once, to those that dare to wish for it. It’s either something to always hope for, something to be in the middle of, or something to be remembered fondly or regrettably. This film will be a gift in some way for any person that watches this ethereal, patient look at true love. This film eloquently portrays the ambiguity of love and its disregard for social norms. It is a force of nature and we are helpless to its power. “Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot” is a line of wisdom spoken to Elio from his father in one of the most honest and tragically beautiful one on ones in recent memory. This story also seems to find cunning ways of finding our weakest spot. Whether between your vision of summer love, love not felt back, or even between parents or a place you miss in your heart, Call Me by Your Name will find your weakest spot.VIFF