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Film Review: Call Me by Your Name

Originally published at www.shipoffools.com.au on January 1, 2018.

While Call Me by Your Name addresses “the love that dare not speak its name”, this is not so much in the vein Oscar Wilde meant, but rather in terms of how bittersweet love is…which is why we crave it so.

**** 1/2

I believe humans are inherently twisted creatures, with even the most seemingly well-adjusted of us containing imperfections and fractures that make us realise we can never truly have a total grip on life.

And love is something that often seeps into these parts of us, healing at times, hurting at others, necessary either way.

Almost sado-masochistically, we embrace love in the knowledge that we can never control how it will play out in our lives — unable to resist its siren call and the treasures it promises, or the doom to which it might lead us.

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name is a stunningly rendered moment of joy, hope, despair and gentle revelation, drawing us compellingly into love’s siren call, experiencing it through the heart of 17 year-old Enio (Timothée Chalamet) and his first true, bittersweet moment, Oliver (Armie Hammer).

I love being surprised by a film — thinking it will be one thing, and, even though it ostensibly is, discovering as we take its cinematic journey that it’s about so much more.

So many posts on social raved about Call my by your Name.

Language such as ‘sublime’, ‘exquisite’ and ‘remarkable’ were thrown around, nilly-willy.

Conversely, one review I read expressed concerns about the content. Despite giving Call my by your Name 3 1/2 stars, not a bad ole whack, the reviewer challenged the messaging at the heart of the story — particularly in the context of the rolling maul of accusations currently flying around about sexual impropriety in Hollywood and the entertainment business more generally.

A friend even posted that the film’s, what he called, “harmful behaviour” ruined it in some ways for him when it could instead have been a beautiful love story, something I can understand, but I would point back to how I opened this…

Love. Bittersweet, nearly always, right?

As I settled in to watch the film, my expectations were high. Very very high.

Dangerous territory.

I cannot deny that I felt a tinge of unease in the opening stages as the story began unwinding in a way that, despite not overly knowing too much about the plot, did not match up to my understanding of what Guadagnino was offering us.

However, how quickly this passed as I settled into the lazy, deliciously warm Italian summer and let the sumptuous setting, slowly unwinding story and wonderful performances completely envelop me.

I left…lighter, despite and even because of, the impeccable final moments. This is where I WILL insert an absolutely necessary and unavoidable SPOILER: You simply must stay until the credits have at least half rolled.

To not do so is to miss the entire message of the film.

Hammer and Chalamet

For me, it’s difficult to find fault with Call Me by Your Name. The leads in Chalamet and Hammer create an incredible on-screen tension bound up in the frisson of their inevitable love-clash. In stellar performances, these two wonderful actors capture the turmoil and excitement of their respective situations, with the surprise for me being Hammer’s journey and the precariousness of identity that can imperil us, no matter our age, understanding of the world or level of intelligence.

No spoiler here — go, see, and be surprised.

They are supported brilliantly by Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar, playing Elio’s almost-too-good-to-be-true parents. If there was a weakness in the film, it might be this — their permissiveness and attitude towards the unfolding relationship between their son and an older man is what has drawn criticism…but criticism, I would argue in the most, from those who don’t understand the European sensibility around sexuality, or who are too conservative to not understand that many 17-year-old men and women do have a pretty strong grasp on their own sexual evolution and desires.

Stuhlbarg in particular shines in one of the film’s penultimate scenes in what might become one of the most wonderful father-son moments in film to date.

Everything else about the film hits home. Guadagnino guides us through the narrative with his directorial hand gently placed in ours, with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom allowing us a close up and sensual eyewitness account of the world of the story in a fashion that should win him a raft of technical awards.

But oddly…despite loving this film in so many ways…it is the underlying soundtrack that I will remember most of all, and that I am listening to as I write this. In the way that films like Star Wars: A New Hope, American Beauty and Brokeback Mountain cannot be separated from their scores or soundtracks, Call Me by Your Name would be compromised without the carefully thought out and rendered score and soundscape. And I really loved the mishmash of language…Italian, French, English…even a little German. This added to that soundscape, and gave the film an added luxurious audio layer.

I’m seeing this film again.

Soon.

You should too.

Trailer: Call Me by Your Name
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