When I left the theatre after seeing Call Me Your Name, I was stunned. The film plays like a dream — and aren’t the best dreams set during summer in the Italian countryside? I had become so fully immersed in the world of Luca Guadagnino’s creation that stepping back outside into the harshness of Canadian winter was even more jarring than usual.
Call Me By Your Name is the story of Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), son to a pair of Jewish, cosmopolitan intellectuals. His father, an academic, hosts graduate students in their Italian home each summer, and one such summer proves transformative when it brings the American Oliver (Armie Hammer), to whom Elio is immediately drawn.
Chalamet’s performance, one worthy of the acclaim and awards it has received thus far, is all the more impressive considering his demeanour offscreen. In person, he is self-deprecating and physically restless, opening his Tonight Show appearance by saying, “I feel so bad for you guys.” He can’t quite sit still, and he will defer to costar Hammer to relay anecdotes about filming and Guadagnino’s hands-on approach.
As Elio, his restlessness turns inward in a somewhat brooding but utterly magnetic performance. The novel upon which the movie is based relies heavily on Elio’s internal monologue, which might have been difficult to convey in film without the use of voiceover. Yet Chalamet is able to disappear into the role, easily maneuvering between precocious confidence and complete uncertainty when it comes to “the things that matter.”
As Oliver, Hammer is somewhat opaque. He can be prickly, but Elio’s longing for him is still transparently reciprocated. The rare moments when both Elio and the viewer get a glimpse into Oliver’s inner life are surprising precisely because of the confidence with which Hammer imbues him.
The joy of Call Me By Your Name is there because it actually gives you what you want. The ecstasy of Elio and Oliver’s love affair playing out is complemented by the film’s attention to unearthing the past — examining the small details that led up to the affair and revealing what they meant all along. These details are often conversations between the two that are utterly recognizable for anyone who has ever experienced, at the very least, mutual infatuation.
Guadagnino’s sense of aesthetic of light and shadow, noise and silence is impeccable throughout. Albeit without the same scatalogical fascination as André Aciman’s original novel, his direction lingers on the body and images of muscles stretching, or fingers intertwined.
Sufjan Stevens’ soundtrack is perfectly complementary, whether with Hammer’s now-iconic dance scene set to “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs, or with Stevens’ own two original songs, including “Mystery of Love,” which I now cannot hear without picturing Hammer and Chalamet on bicycles, in dark alleys, or circling town squares.
Call Me By Your Name is a luminous story in all respects — I cannot recommend it, or Aciman’s work, enough.