“Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.” Luca Guadagnino’s (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) latest film is a masterfully told tale of sexual awakening and first love, offering one of the most spellbinding, convincing relationships cinema has seen this century.
An Italian home in 1983 is the setting for this realist romance. Elio (Timothee Chalemet) is a seventeen-year old living out yet another lazy summer reading books, simply passing the time waiting for something of substance to stir him from his slumbered existence. He feels he has learnt so much from literature, but sadly nothing about the things that actually matter in life – jaded, yet surrounded by beauty, this dissatisfaction clearly confuses and alienates him from others of his age. Curiously, his attention is captured by Oliver (Armie Hammer), a young academic visiting Elio’s archaeologist father (Michael Stuhlbarg). What follows is a relationship destined to shape both of their lives forever.
This is much more than a conventional coming-of-age tale in which a teenager falls in love, although its classical romantic elements certainly add to its timelessness. It depicts with such devotion the way in which one individual can become, for any amount of time, everything that matters in the world. This is a story that has been told many times, but its portrayal of homosexual relationships is something that is not seen as frequently in mainstream cinemas. There has been an improvement ever since the release of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain in 2005, but it is not even close to being as openly presented as it should be. With recent films such as Todd Haynes’ critically adored Carol a decade later, however, alongside the glowing reception of Call Me By Your Name, there is reasonable belief that LGBT representations are sure to be more at home in the multiplex from here on out.
Elio’s first encounter with Oliver appears to be just like any other introduction – perhaps, because it is. There is no visible signifier to determine that this is the first page of a sweeping novel they will live out together. Between the two actors, there is initially no chemistry evident in the frames of which they share; it is an affair that blooms progressively with every communication. During a game of volleyball, Oliver tries to massage Elio’s shoulders whilst protesting that he needs to relax and unwind. Uncomfortable, he wanders off – avoiding acceptance through hesitation fails to last, however, as he hence finds himself further drawn to the American stranger. The two begin to share their days, visiting town and journeying out on idyllic cycling trips through the country, with Elio exposing his emotions and feelings as they do.
Once their romance begins, the pair are utterly captivating. There is a realism to their exchanges, and while Elio is young and coming to terms with his sexuality, Oliver is older and more mysterious as to the certainty of his. The shots of them together, particularly the nightfall exteriors, are so beautiful to look at and give the conversations such a magical and seductive quality. Equally, the shots of them drenched under the orange yolk of the sun are radiantly captured by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives). It is such a fascinating film to look at – the natural qualities and landscapes of northern Italy are so appealing, and provide the perfect backdrop to a young man falling in love; the gorgeous visuals, in this respect, act to mirror the feelings of wonder and content that Elio feels when spending valuable time with his first and foremost love.
Accompanying magnificent narrative, visuals, dialogue and performances is an excellent soundtrack from Sufjan Stevens. Every piece of music feels perfectly suited to the scene, and help instances of intense emotion resonate even further. The lyrics speak with such penetrative depth at times when the characters cannot even begin to disclose their innermost thoughts of fear and ambiguity. Some of the films images act in a similar way; the use of statues that Oliver and Elio’s father witness act as a reminder of the ways in which the male form has been depicted and admired for centuries, and help establish his deep-rooted fascination of the masculine framework. These are complex, tangible characters that act towards each other in life-affirming ways, delightful in their legitimacy.
Both leads are incredibly charming, and as the relationship develops, it becomes less about not wanting them to leave each other, but more about you, the audience, not wanting to leave them. They are themselves a pairing to fall in love with, and, although premature to say, will prove to be a cinematic marvel that new audiences will discover and adore for decades to come – an accomplished classic in the making.