Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

By Will Bjarnar

The phrase “coming of age” is often tossed around on a string of whims, being attached to anything resembling someone evolving. Yes, its definition suggests a maturation of a young man or woman, and to be quite honest, it can be applied to just about any film, novel or art form that encompasses the lessons and changes one begins to understand as they age. Yet for me, I have always had a difficult time applying the distinction to just anything.

In my book, a “coming of age” story is not only about what a young woman experiences as she deals with the unabating, never fading high school bully. It is something that makes you step back, gather your thoughts and return with a new outlook upon what you have just seen. It is something that makes you gasp at the realization that you've experienced such dilemmas or heartbreaks, and cry as if you are living that heartbreak all over again through the characters in its pages or on screen.

Photo from indiewire.com

Photo from indiewire.com

Luca Guadagnino’s film, Call Me By Your Name, based on André Aciman’s eponymous novel of the same title, checks those boxes, one by one, and in such a way that its ease will make you admire the film more than you already may have.

Set in the summer of 1983, it chronicles 17-year-old Elio Perlman’s (Timothee Chalamet) visit to his family’s home in northern Italy and the beautiful, life-changing relationship that develops between Elio and his father’s (Michael Stuhlberg) doctoral intern for the summer, 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer). Through a shared adoration for wonder, bike rides, classical music and knowledge, Elio is able to find himself with the help of knowing and growing to love Oliver, and is able to discover and understand the difficulties that come attached to coming to grips with falling in love.

Oliver and Elio begin the film with what seem to be strikingly opposite personalities and general mannerisms. Where Elio whips on a wide-necked t-shirt and immediately bookmarks whatever page in whatever novel to hurry to the family table at the first ring of the dinner bell, Oliver stirs in his cot and mumbles, “thanks bro,” when Elio silently agrees to make up an excuse for him to skip dinner to continue his nap. Where Elio will sometimes grumble at the mere possibility of going dancing on a night when he would rather transcribe music by candlelight, Oliver will flippantly disappear with the casual, “later,” to signal his ever-so-often departures. Yet where Elio enjoys hillsides and hidden creeks, Oliver joins in. And as the story of the two unknown and self-defined forbidden lovers begins to unfold, we start to notice the obvious connection the two have. When one offers to run errands via bicycle, the other gleefully requests the permission to tag along, and their love only grows.

James Ivory perfectly translates what was already dubbed, “an exceptionally beautiful book,” by the New York Times, into one of the year’s top screenplays, adaptation category aside. He captures every thirst-quenching bite of every ripe-for-the-picking apricot in the most vivid of detail, to the point where when Oliver swigs glass after glass of its juice, we taste it ourselves.

Three scenes encapsulate the same sort of feeling I describe here. First, when we find the two finally exploring the undeniable feelings they have for one another, which makes us clench our seats in anticipation of each respective reaction from both of the boys. Next, where Elio sits adjacent to his father, who is providing him with the sound advice on coping with heartbreak that only a father could give. Little does he know that it is something that can only be mended by time, and maybe, the kind words of an endearing father. And finally, in a near identical scene, where no words are spoken and all Elio’s mother (Amira Casar) can do to comfort her boy is to hold his head, while all Chalamet can do is welcome us to break down in tears as he does.

Photo from Sony Pictures

Photo from Sony Pictures

A great deal of the film is appropriately focused upon its main man, Elio Perlman. Although the affair is the main event, Elio’s growth and evolution is what you long to see unfold. His charisma is inescapable, and his old-soul sensibility is so rare for someone at seventeen years of age that anyone in their right mind would be drawn to him effortlessly.

Esther Garrel, who plays his female, French fling Marzia, sees this up close, as the two share brief yet still passionate moments in corridors around the cobblestone streets of Italy and in the damp fields beside the familiar creek, where no one but the two would ever know where they were. Elio’s sexuality, coupled by a painful combination of shame and guilt, finally drive him to come to grips with his true feelings, and his confirmation to Marzia that she is “not his girl” is as heartbreaking in itself as her bike ride home must have been.

The evolution and “coming of age” of Elio is again, the main attraction of this film, but it cannot come alone. Oliver walks and talks with a very American swagger, and can dance his way into any teenage girl’s clueless heart. Meanwhile, his own heart is not at all so clueless, and lies with someone else.

Nominated for four Academy Awards, including “Best Picture” and “Best Actor in a Leading Role” for Chalamet’s performance as Elio, this is one film that is sure to hear its name called a great share of times on March 4. It is a movie you absolutely must see to believe and appreciate for its duration. Sure, the trailer will intrigue you, but as soon as the opening credits begin with the beautiful piano-dominant score, captained by the tune “Hallelujah Junction – 1st Suite” by John Adams, you will be drawn in for the entirety of its 130 minutes.

Coming of age is the among fairest of ways to describe Guadagnino’s work. Truly, it doesn’t do even close to enough justice to the magic that is Call Me By Your Name. From the first time the lovers shake hands to the film's final moments, where Elio is kneeling in front of a wood burning fire, weeping over the man he will always care for (stay until the screen goes entirely black), it takes away every last one of your breaths. A perfect cast and setting are just the beginning; a foundation that delivers this masterpiece the way no one else would have been able to do.

“Senza dubbio uno dei migliori film del 2017, e un tesoro che dovresti prendere mentre puoi.” No doubt one of 2017’s best films, and a treasure you should take in while you can.

Marist