I still can’t place my finger on when exactly I first heard about “Call Me By Your Name.” There has been buzz surrounding it for nearly a year since its January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. All I knew about it was that it was set in Northern Italy and was about two young men who fall in love. What really drew me to it was the lush cinematography of the early promotional clips. My mind was set—I had to watch it as soon as I was able.
This summer, the “Call Me By Your Name” hype grew and I was bursting at the seams to watch it. Reviewers were describing it as “tantalizing” and “sensual” and “summery.” It promised to be a visual feast with a beguiling love story. It also promised to be raw and heart-wrenching. The wait was excruciating.
Finally, the time I had basically been waiting for all year arrived. It was November, I was in London and “Call Me By Your Name” had just come out in the UK a couple of weeks before. I was ecstatic. I got tickets to see it at the Curzon Cinema in Soho, a member of a arthouse cinema chain. The environment was relaxed and perfect—cushy seats, chill ambience and a packed theater full of other eager moviegoers.
It’s hard to put into words how much I adored “Call Me By Your Name.” It’s genteel, refined and intellectually stimulating.
The cinematography really sold the summer languor of the film, focusing on luscious, verdant pastoral views and casting the characters in an incandescent light. Every scene during the day was aglow with golden natural light, and the mood was somnolent. The night scenes were humming with barely contained energy, softly lit with hallowed coloring. The setting—a small town in Northern Italy in the 1980s—was picture perfect.
It is set at the home of the Perlmans. The son, Elio Perlman, is home for the summer when he meets Oliver, an American PhD student who is studying the Classics with Elio’s father and residing with the Perlmans for the summer. And so ensues the pas de deux, a clandestine dance between the two love interests as they skirt around their feelings for each other. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) possesses an almost bird-like fragility, prone to sudden spurts of energy and flightiness. Oliver (Armie Hammer) is larger than life, filling up every room enters with his presence.
Elio is the definition of precocious. He transcribes classical music, performs renditions of classics on the piano and reads and reads and reads. He is graced with intellectual precision. To him, at first, the burly American is uncouth and brusque. They are stark opposites, yet their chemistry is electric. Chalamet’s acting as the lovelorn Elio is magnificent. The sharp interest in his gaze when watching Oliver is palpable.
This is a film that forces you to feel every single emotion displayed on screen. It holds your feelings hostage. And so, as it seeped with romance, I could feel my own heart spilling over. I felt the dizziness and the grandeur of that summer love. The scenes between Elio and Oliver as they discovered the depths of their feelings for each other had the wispy air of a dream. If you’re a hopeless romantic, you’ll be squealing internally. The sexual chemistry burns fiery hot and their mutual desire is as succulent as the fruits that thematically pop up throughout the film.
Yet, with the highs come the lows, and Oliver must return to America at the end of the summer. This was the emotional weight of the film, and it wrung my heart out. Chalamet portrays a young man losing his emotional center with a sincerity that is absolutely heartbreaking. Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) gives a truly sagacious monologue to Elio towards the end of the film that touches the soul and which I believe truly encapsulates the weight of first love.
There were points in the film when I just wanted to bottle up the feelings I had in response to the imagery and keep them close to me forever. The music only heightened those feelings; the soundtrack was blessed with three songs from Sufjan Stevens (my personal favorite being the lugubrious Visions of Gideon), an artist that is able to transmit delicate love in his craft. The final scene was the most poignant and deeply moving of the entire film. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that it will hit you in waves of emotion that you may have even forgotten how to feel.
If you love visually, intellectually and emotionally stimulating films, you will find all that and more in “Call Me By Your Name.”
Side Note: How they make the simple act of biking look so spellbinding?