LFF 2017: Call Me By Your Name Review
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Luca Guadagnino has already developed a reputation for sizzling and sensual cinematic journeys, with his previous film A Bigger Splash proving to be a visually arresting erotic thriller that examined jealousy, desire and the inability forget the past. Now Guadagnino tackles the thrills and surprises of young first love, but once again in the picturesque Italian summertime.
Call Me By Your Name follows a young man named Elio (Timothée Chalamet) who is staying with his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) at their Italian villa in the 1980s, when his routine is interrupted by the handsome and intellectual older academic Oliver (Arnie Hammer) coming to stay with them for the summer. As the pair bond over shared backgrounds and their intellectual interests, a fierce desire and tenderness develops between them.
Guadagnino creates a perfectly judged atmosphere of melancholy, longing, tranquillity and inner turmoil as the heat of the summer engulfs Elio with a rising attraction to Oliver. The script explores the everyday habits, hobbies and preoccupations of Elio, and it becomes increasingly obvious that Oliver is dominating all of these. Through light touches and long glances at the strong athletic body of Hammer, a sexual tension reaches fever pitch midway through the film that begs for a consummation.
In addition to the beautiful cinematography of the lush greens of the Italian countryside and exploration of the villa's interiors, the Italian maestro utilises his cast to the best of their abilities. Chalamet portrays a sensitivity and naturalism that is well beyond his years as Elio, creating a character who is both confident and introverted, charming but naive, sure of himself but also lost. The film is most certainly that of the younger lover's, but Hammer is terrific as the charismatic object of his affection (particularly with his already popular dance scenes). The scene of the film, however, belongs to an emotionally raw monologue from Stuhlbarg that won't fail to produce a tear even from the coldest of personalities.
The women of the cast receive less to do than in A Bigger Splash, but make an impression nonetheless. Amira Casar is a warm and nurturing mother, who is the ideal for a young man exploring his sexuality, and who doesn't receive credit for her intuition. Esther Garrell is also quietly heartbreaking as the female object of Elio's adolescent sexual appetites, but is quickly supplanted upon the arrival of Hammer's lithe Oliver.
The gorgeous visuals and naturalistic script are also aided by a tender score that is punctuated at its most delicate moments with songs from indie musician Sufjan Stevens; as Guadagino noted himself in press, the peacefulness of Stevens' voice with the violence of his lyrics perfectly matches the tone of the film itself which deals with big emotions but in a subtle way - despite one notable masturbation scene. Much has been made of the love scenes but they themselves are not explicit to the point of crude, but are instead a realistic depiction of love and the nudity is always tasteful (if not censored).
Ultimately with Call Me By Your Name, Guadagino has created a love story and coming-of-age tale that will surely become a classic of the genre, and advances the canon of gay cinema. For despite its period setting and relevance it seeks to highlight not only romance but the experience of maturing gay men making the themes, resultantly, universally resonant and therefore all the more touching for it. A career high for a director already in his prime.
Call Me By Your Name is released in the UK on the 27th October 2017.