Call Me by Your Name Review

“Call Me by Your Name” recounts a magical whirlwind of a summer young romance in the ‘80s, but shares very few qualities of most films that have told a similar story. Luca Guadagnino’s film fits squarely in the definition of arthouse rather than in the mainstream or even “indie” mold of nostalgic romantic comedy. He tells the story of a teenager (Timothee Chalamet) smitten with the young man (Armie Hammer) living with his family for the summer in northern Italy in a series of short visual snapshots meant to appeal primarily to the senses.

The experience of “Call Me by Your Name” feels a lot like memory. The scenes are brief and fleeting, often without much transition. They seem to focus on certain details that feel more vivid than others, sometimes insignificant ones. They are both joyful and pristine and sometimes deep and wistful. The ethereality of it can make it feel a bit long and aimless, but it’s a film more to be appreciated like art than to be compelled by in terms of story.

The film also leans psychological and emotional. Guadagnino plays with the tightening and releasing of romantic tension, though the tightening is quite subtle while the release is more visceral. The intellectual dialogue between Elio and Oliver feels chess-like while the physical dialogue between them playful and animalistic. Chalamet and Hammer share a remarkably distinct chemistry, though the effect their dynamic has on the audience isn’t one of feeling as though we relate to them so much as we just feel their energy on screen in a raw way.

There’s also a lack of explicitness that contributes to the film’s mystique, though it may also frustrate viewers who prefer a more conventional movie experience. Screenwriter James Ivory, adapting from Andre Aciman’s novel, chooses very carefully what the characters say and don’t say, and when. This comes to bear most notably at the end of the film in an exchange between Elio and his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) that provides powerful punctuation to the story, but it’s also in Ivory’s technique. 

Elio is extremely private, and his thoughts are probably well-documented in the novel form of this story. But instead of giving audiences the gift of voiceover narration, Ivory keeps us as a spectator of Elio, only dropping a few clues as to the emotional storm in Elio’s head and largely allowing Chalamet’s performance to control our connection to the character. 

That setup allows Chalamet to really shine in this role. The success of the film hinges largely on his ability to keep us connected to the character and engaged in a story that has very few sources of conflict. Viewers who have had more closely similar experiences in their formative years will respond better to “Call Me by Your Name” than others, but the film does a good job capturing that first real love affair and the emotions that comes with it, even if it does so in ways less common on the big screen.

4.5/5 Stars

Call Me by Your Name
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Written by James Ivory, Andre Aciman (novel)
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel


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