- Call Me By Your Name (2017)
A tender, benevolent story that swirls around with youthful liveliness and desire, Call Me By Your Name is a sumptuous celebration of first love. Forget all the summer fling stories you might’ve seen on the big screen – Luca Guadagnino’s picture of affection and vulnerability is a memorable pastoral tale of growing feelings, cherished times together, and winter afternoons by a fireplace which don’t always play out as they should, but are filled with poignant memories regardless.
Enio spends another holiday reading, transcribing music and hanging out with other vacationers in a picturesque small town in northern Italy. However, this year is bound to be different from the sleepy summers of the past: his father recruits an assistant to help him with his research every year, and when Oliver appears, the boy struggles to figure out how he feels about the visitor. Reluctantly at the beginning, the teenager spends time with Oliver, only to discover that his fondness of the enigmatic guest grows on him every single day.
Delving the will-they-won’t-they situation the protagonists are in and the storm of feelings that gradually takes over the screen, Luca Guadagnino crafts an intensively emotional and profound depiction of the first love that possesses an extraordinary ability to enthral the audience. The devil’s in the detail here – this insanely intimate atmosphere that transports you to a small town in Italy for almost two hours is a foundation of the sense of intimacy and familiarity. Think dinners outside in an idyllic garden, a paradise on earth, or holidays filled with hangouts with family and friends. Whether it’s grandparents quarrelling at the dinner table or a gang of kids dancing at a disco in the town, the director captured these little daily moments of wonder and gave them the power to run the story without being distractive.
Paying attention to the complexity of interpersonal relations in a small community makes Guadagnino a winner once more. We start with Enio and his family. The loving, trusting relationship between the parents and their son nurtured in an academic environment of open-minded people doesn’t appear unrealistic but fits into the arcadian frame of this story. That expands to the interactions between other characters. A holidaymaking girl Marzia (Esther Garrel), for instance, becomes a crucial part of the boy’s self-discovery. Remarkably, there are no embodiments of antagonists in this peaceful neighbourhood. The enemies hide in abstractions: time, distance and fear.
The teenager has a hard time battling his feelings at the beginning: he flees in the bounding when Oliver touches him for the first time, and directs his angst at convincing the others and himself that their guest is a bit brash and arrogant. Even when he understands his own feelings a little better, he’s still petrified and confused. He serves his love interest a matter-of-fact confession of his emotional state only to escape with a girl from the neighbourhood for a night. Nothing can depict the first love like messy feelings, burning passion and humanity of contradiction that Timothée Chalamet serves us.
Oliver, on the other hand, seems a little more cautious at the beginning. Operating on understatements, he never really reveals how he feels about Enio: his walls are up, and he struggles to give in. When he confesses that he’s anxious about the potential risks and the impact he might have on his younger partner, everything falls into place. And Armie Hammer is extraordinary as Olivier, meddling his housemate’s peace of mind with small gestures that have a grand underlying meaning.
As if I didn’t praise them enough on their own, let me say it once again for the people in the back: Hammer and Chalamet’s bond is electrifying. Their characters explore their relationship from the early game of guessing to a profound connection; every step along the way, every word and gesture depicts the tiniest nuance of their love affair.
But it’s not just the setting and richly drawn characters. The soundtrack plays an enormous role in the film, too. Hard-hitting musical cues elaborately flirt with the image, adding a defining touch at the right time. Classical music, a medium of self-expression for Enio, grows into another part of the intimate vocabulary in his relationship with Oliver. When the boy sits at the piano to show-off and dramatize the melody he’s playing, the air thickens with playful teasing, feelings that can’t yet be expressed and words that must be left unsaid at that very minute.
The original compositions are only one part of it, however. Add the hits from the eighties, be it mainstream songs or Italo disco tunes, and you’ll speak to the collective memory on another level. Remember Words Don’t Come Easy, for instance? (I do; despite being born in the nineties, I heard this song abusing the airplay all the time when I was a kid, not that anybody cares) Now, play a verse from it from an old-fashioned radio in a hideaway to two teenagers with hormones flowing through their veins. Period-relevant? Checked. Sets the mood? Checked.
Scrupulous attention to detail that builds immersive atmosphere, surrounding full-bodied character sketches with the air of anticipation and epicurean enjoyment all result in a poignant story that knows its direction, but it’s not afraid to stray and play with the viewer. That makes Call Me By Your Name a phenomenally executed exercise in a bucolic tale. Poetic, idealistic and nostalgic, it holds the prodigious power to celebrate love and life with hedonistic conviction.
Call Me By Your Name was screened as a part of the 61st London Film Festival. The film opens in the UK on the 27th of October 2017.