Call Me By Your Name is a luminous story in all respects

The summery, heartfelt film is the perfect antidote to winter blues

<i>Call Me By Your Name</i> is a luminous story in all respects

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.

TIFF film review: Victoria & Abdul

Though Stephen Frears’ film sheds light on a little-known piece of history, at times it favours humour over insight

TIFF film review: <em>Victoria & Abdul</em>

Based on the book by Shrabani Basu, Victoria & Abdul tells the true story of the unexpected friendship that developed between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, an Indian man recruited to partake in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, leaving his home and sailing to England alongside his friend Mohammed to do so.

Though initially only tasked with presenting the Queen with a ceremonial coin, Abdul finds himself given the title of “the Munshi,” or advisor, after Victoria takes a liking to his candidness, which is a stark contrast to her odious staff. Much to the increasing outrage of the xenophobic court staff, Abdul stays in England far longer than expected, teaching the Queen Urdu and recounting things about his home country that she will never see with her own eyes.

Victoria & Abdul is enjoyable in the way it lightheartedly pokes fun at stuffy colonial institutions. The film’s fast-paced opening scenes, which openly mock the extreme lengths the British court staff take in order to abide by court etiquette, make for a brilliant introduction to its plot. Mohammed’s unbridled hostility toward the British Crown is delightfully sardonic and, crucially, complements Abdul’s apparent enchantment with the Queen. The film provides basic critical commentary regarding the many dimensions of the beast of imperialism, and how two people can find themselves totally isolated when they refuse to obey the expectations of those around them.

At the same time, there is only so much history that can be encapsulated in a roughly two-hour film. Audiences get only glimpses of character development: a bitter but brief monologue reveals the Queen’s deep loneliness in relation to the people who serve her, and disappointingly little attention is paid to Abdul’s allegiance to his people and his feelings toward his family, who are brought to England from India at a later date. The true story upon which Victoria & Abdul is based is remarkable on its own — and one cannot help but wish the ramifications of this important relationship had been dealt with in more depth, even within the time constraints of the film.

It is important to remember that Victoria & Abdul is a tragic story in spite of the comic moments that dominate its plot. With the Queen’s eventual passing, Abdul is quickly evicted from his home, and his belongings are set ablaze in an attempt to destroy the mementos of his relationship with Victoria.

It is encouraging that, due to its reach and its exceptional cast, Victoria & Abdul will bring an important true story to the attention of the general population. The closing scenes of the film are heart-wrenching and appear to have been tacked on as afterthoughts to the otherwise cheerful plot. Though its lighthearted tone makes the film enjoyable to watch, perhaps more attention should have been paid to the parts of the history that were not quite as comical.

TIFF film review: Lean on Pete

The supposed horse drama contains a wonderful lead performance — but not much else

TIFF film review: <em>Lean on Pete</em>

About fifteen minutes in, I decided I didn’t like Lean on Pete, so I spent the rest of the film’s runtime finding things wrong with it. In a conscious attempt to be open-minded, though, I looked for things that I liked, too. I had chosen to see the movie because it was an A24 film, and I had yet to see an A24 film I didn’t like. I wanted so badly to enjoy this movie, but the indie studio responsible for recent critical hits like Moonlight and The Witch let me down.

Narratively, Lean on Pete is billed as a boy-and-his-horse coming-of-age tale, but the film is really more of a winding character study. The horse’s involvement in the plot is over by the first third of the movie. Once Lean on Pete — Pete being the horse — is out of the picture, the audience is left to follow Charley, played by Charlie Plummer, who has left home and is traversing a barren landscape to find his aunt.

The movie has been widely praised, so perhaps the problem was my inability to get past its smaller details. There were a few continuity errors that really pulled me out of the film, and the lack of causality and connection between certain sequences stunted its flow. Although that sort of disjunction is sometimes intentional and used to create unease, I doubt that was the case here.

Nonetheless, there is a lot that was done well in this film. Plummer’s performance is fantastic, and it only gets better as the film progresses. Once I realized he looked like a young Chad Michael Murray, things really took off. The film’s cinematography, courtesy of Magnus Joenck, is also superb.

Beyond that, highlights included a couple of really great-looking horses and a few good-looking burgers. Plus, Steve Buscemi was on screen for a while, and he swore a little, so that was nice.