The Square: Review

 

The Square 2

Ruben Östland is no stranger to dissecting the human psyche in his filmmaking, presenting us in 2014’s Force Majeure with the idea of the forward thinking individual masking their fragmented, egocentric, hypocritical inner self through careful cultivation of their language, image and public behaviour. His latest Palme d’Or-winning offering deals with some similar ideas, challenging our perception of ourselves, the strangeness of human behaviour, and the elitist insularity of the modern art world using biting social satire and outlandish imagery. The Square is a film that pushes its viewer to their limits, in which Östland toys with his audience and takes great pleasure in the sadism of daring people to look away.

This is certainly a sprawling, disjointed film with an elusive plot and unconventional structure, meaning its meandering pace and the many unexpected turns it takes are even more conducive to a wholly unpredictable and novel experience. The cinematography and directorial style showcased here by Östland are intentionally extravagant, not only adding an ostentatious quality to the film’s visuals to reflect its central themes, but also representing the folly of so many human behaviours. This meticulously crafted backdrop propels the dry European humour that underpins the whole affair: whilst Stockholm gallery curator Christian Nielsen enjoys the power and privilege that accompanies his prestigious role, he presents himself as a progressive thinker whilst privately encompassing the same traits of self-indulgence and cowardice that we all seek to mask in ourselves. He curates his own persona in the same way he curates the comically empty art pieces that comprise his museum, further lampooned in a particularly hilarious scene in which part of an exhibit is inadvertently vacuumed up by a cleaner. The film is truly a comedy of manners, in which Östland succeeds in holding a mirror up to the secular art world, acting as a microcosm of the middle classes as a whole.

As Christian navigates these ideas through the trials and tribulations of running the museum, the film clearly sets out to satirise the pack mentality and selfishness that are such a prevalent part of human culture, conveniently tied together in the motif behind Lola Arias’ central exhibition that the museum presents to the public:

‘The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.’

This is also echoed in the many cries for help littered throughout the film, either real or imagined in some instances. This idea of our unwillingness to help and involve ourselves in the plight and struggle of others is brought together in the film’s pièce de résistance, a bizarre piece of performance art at a press dinner in which a man (Terry Notary), posing as an ape, wreaks terror on a captive audience and highlights some controversial truths about the extent to which humans are willing to turn a blind eye to others’ suffering. This scene in particular had my heart racing, and was a truly adrenalin-packed experience that encapsulates what The Square sets out to achieve. The imagery of primates, not reserved exclusively to this scene, creates an obvious visual contrast between the highly civilised and advanced society the western world have adopted and the slightly murkier instinctual behaviours that lie within. It is this kind of perceptive observation and innovative visual iconography that makes the film such a success.

The Square

For all Östland’s filmmaking virtues, this doesn’t stop the film’s message being a little ham-fisted, but this in itself reinforces the rather aggressive satirical overtones the film thrusts upon its viewers. The Square is a raunchy, thrilling and audacious masterwork exploring human relationships and the selfishness of the liberal elite, delivered expertly through unusual pacing techniques, evocative cinematography and an irresistibly dry tone. If Östland’s future outputs are anything like his last two, he will certainly be considered one of the most tenacious directorial voices of the current decade.

Advertisements

Isle of Dogs: Review

Isle of Dogs 2

From the very moment Wes Anderson announced his new feature, his cult-like fan base has ardently awaited the arrival of what appeared to be an intriguing and inventive new animated picture, littered with the stylistic hallmarks and distinctive humour that characterise his illustrious body of work. Isle of Dogs is equally as accomplished as its predecessors in its witty dialogue, dry vocal performances and touching premise, boasting a dazzling ensemble cast which culminates in one of Anderson’s most sharply funny pieces of work since 1998’s Rushmore.

The plot that underpins this stop-motion animated delight goes a little something like this: the futuristic ‘Japanese archipelago’ decides to banish all the canine inhabitants of Megasaki City to a figurative dumping ground entitled ‘Trash Island’ due to an outbreak of canine flu, described by Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) as making the dogs a dangerous and unpredictable part of Japanese society. On the island, a group of self-proclaimed ‘indestructible alpha dogs’ scavenge for survival, headed by Bryan Cranston’s aloof, grumpy and battle-worn Chief, and comprising Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Ed Norton), King (Bob Balaban) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) as loyal and well-preened house dogs who miss the comforts of their domestic origins. Following the crash-landing of Mayor Kobayashi’s ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), in search of his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), a search for the missing canine ensues.

Some have critiqued Anderson for his inaccurate and old-fashioned depiction of Japan, featuring an amalgamation of cultural stereotypes that represent a version of the country that does not exist in any reality. It is clear that Anderson’s infatuation with the country leads to a few mild missteps, approaching the filmmaking process with the kind of wide-eyed westernised enthusiasm that leads to the portrayal of an aesthetic as opposed to a multi-faceted country. He is, of course, well-meaning as ever in his approach though, evidently besotted with Japan’s culture, which translates into Alexandre Desplat’s striking taiko drum score. The score combines effortlessly with the rich, earthy tones of the set design, depicting expansive dystopian vistas contrasted with the charming puppetry of the dogs and human characters alike, to create a tactile and charming experience that truly capitalises on the comical physicality of its stop-motion centrepieces.

Isle of Dogs 3

Isle of Dogs is a delightfully strange, endearingly funny and visually creative piece of work which further consolidates the unmistakable iconography of Anderson’s brand with a fresh and genuinely moving new tale. His astute dialogue and well-chosen collaborators complement the film’s decadent score and aesthetic, and create something with huge amounts of heart beneath its surface. Anderson has created a whole host of lovable characters, and a sense of pure wonder that courses through the film’s entire run time; his keen eye for design and flair for dry humour are simply unparalleled in any other area of Hollywood today.

Roman Holiday (1953): Classic Review

Roman Holiday 2

In the midst of the glamour and hyperbole of golden Hollywood, you’d be hard pressed to find a film quite as endearing as William Wyler’s Roman Holiday. Unaffected by the melodrama and overacting that infiltrates the theatrical allure of some of its contemporaries, Roman Holiday balances sweetness and light with a feeling of weight and heartbreak akin to modern day pictures like La La Land and Carol. It is this freshness, vitality and carefully balanced tone that makes the film so timeless and captivating for even the most cynical of audiences.

Set in Rome, and, as boldly announced in the film’s opening titles, shot there in its entirety, Roman Holiday simply radiates beauty. Every shot is exquisite, meticulously constructed so as to balance the iconic ancient backdrop of the eternal city with the glassy-eyed gazes and luscious soft focus of its two leads; Gregory Peck at his most handsome, and the ever-beautiful Audrey Hepburn in her breakout Oscar-scoring role. Hepburn plays the stifled and sheltered Princess Ann, whose relentless duties lead to her opportunistic escape one night during a trip to Rome in which she is required to act as a figurehead for the consolidation of European relations. Bringing her escapades on the streets of Rome to an abrupt end, she winds up falling asleep in the street, only to be stumbled upon by the Joe Bradley, a kind and worldly American news reporter. Having stumbled upon the scoop of the century, will Bradley exploit the princess for the sake of a story or will the pair’s growing feelings take precedence over his initial opportunistic intentions?

Roman Holiday 3

What makes Roman Holiday so enrapturing is its perfect combination of nuance and levity; its two central characters never feel like caricatures, yet still elicit the same feeling of warmth one would expect in any classic romantic comedy. It possesses all the joy and frivolity of a career-defining Billy Wilder comedy, with an extra dose of gravitas infused into its characters, their motivations and their world view. Unencumbered with the melodrama that was so popular in 1950s romance, the film exhibits a subtlety and an exuberant charm that elevates it as one of the defining comedies of the decade, and one that gave rise to an actress and philanthropist who instantly became synonymous with Hollywood itself.

With a closing shot that has the power to break a thousand hearts, it is the film’s ending that cements its place as an era-defining piece of cinema that transcends time and trends in its enduring influence on films today. Peck and Hepburn are simply delightful against an equally spectacular backdrop, presenting us with an entirely convincing and involving relationship that doesn’t only stand the test of time, but acts as the perfect tonic to modern-day cynicism. It is simply a must-watch.

The Shape of Water: Review

The Shape of Water 2

As Oscars season draws ever closer, there is one film in particular that surpasses all others in terms of the sheer volume of nominations and glowing praise that precede it. This film comes in the form of Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy romance, The Shape of Water. The widely talked about picture is nominated for a plethora of awards, and after having been spellbound by the ingenuity, exceptional filmmaking and attention to detail exhibited by del Toro and his cast and crew, I can certainly see why. Settling on the familiar and much-loved fairytale territory that most of his work operates within, the film manages to court all the wholesome and uplifting aspects we would expect from this formula, without falling into the pitfalls lesser films might have have succumbed to.

Set in a slightly off-kilter version of the 1960s Cold War era, The Shape of Water stars the vastly underrated Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a cleaner in a scientific laboratory facility who happens to be mute. She resides with her best friend, Giles (Richard Jenkins), who finds himself equally ostracised, lonely and out-of-place in the world due to his repressed sexuality which is explored somewhat in a small, delicately-woven subplot which hugely enriches both his character and the film’s backdrop, without merging into obvious tropes or clichés. Elisa’s best friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) also carries her own sadness in the form of her lonely, unfulfilling marriage. This core theme of loneliness is beautifully enhanced by the 1960s pastiche created by the film’s striking visual composition, comprised of lustrous blues and greens which create a surreal oceanic feel, whilst also harking back to the darkness and weight of Cold War fear and inter-governmental tensions.

Out of this idea of alienation and isolation stems Elisa’s chance encounter with a mysterious aquatic amphibian creature (Doug Jones), being held captive in the lab for the purpose of brutal testing and investigation. As she strikes up an unconventional bond with this creature, they begin to fall in love with one another, which leads to panic as she learns of the government’s unpalatable plans for him. Spearheading this ruthless onslaught is Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland, the film’s menacing and multi-faceted villain. He is perhaps the best example of del Toro’s ability to write convincing and layered characters by exploring both their own personal subplots as well as littering the film with numerous visual cues which hint at the greater picture, tone and motivation that undercut these characters’ lives.

The Shape of Water 3

Sally Hawkins herself is effervescent in this role, bringing to it a rhythm and a theatricality of movement which is enhanced by the limitations of her mute character. Every step and flourish feels planned and considered, giving the film a musicality and whimsy that evokes notions of classic Hollywood cinema. Her kind face and quiet, knowing presence is not dissimilar to that of Audrey Tatou’s Amélie, as she nurtures those around her and attempts to find her place in a harsh and unforgiving world. As the creature learns to communicate with Elisa via sign language and the pair’s connection blossoms, any shred of doubt the viewer may have in terms of the strange nature of the relationship melts away as they are enveloped by the purity and beauty of their love. Alexandre Desplat’s wondrously beguiling score provides the perfect base from which this love to blossom.

The Shape of Water is perhaps Guillermo del Toro’s best work since 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, brimming with the same raw creativity, tactility and sense of wonder as the latter, and bringing a gentle and soul-cleansing romance to this year’s awards season which appears to have won over hordes of viewers. The polarity in the film’s reception stems from the unorthodox nature of its central romance, but irrespective of how far people are prepared to go with the film’s artistic license, del Toro has undoubtedly crafted a visually-sublime, tonally intoxicating fairytale; one that will pique the interest of cinephiles and aspiring filmmakers for years to come.

Lady Bird: Review

Lady Bird 2

Lady Bird is a beautifully-written, wryly observed and semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale from the wonderful Greta Gerwig, one of the most prolific and astute writer/directors in the indie circuit. Having collaborated with the likes of Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson in some of her best known comedic performances, there is a certain air of stilted, neurotic charm to her demeanour that she capitalises on in order to bring warmth to her words and her performances alike. In her second directorial turn, Gerwig presents us with Christine “Lady Bird” MacPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a vibrant, self-assured and precocious 17 year old in 2002, who is desperate to escape the confines of her hometown of Sacramento and assert all she has to offer the world in the dream-like escapism of New York and the east coast, ‘where culture is’.

Whilst Gerwig’s directorial debut Mistress America was a love letter to New York, a city synonymous with eclectic culture and the realisation of one’s creative dreams, Lady Bird is perhaps a conflicted love letter to her southern Californian roots. Indeed, it is this motif that runs through the film’s core; the dichotomy of wanting to flee the humdrum banality and small-town mindset of one’s origins in favour of somewhere offering variety and excitement, whilst also longing for the familiar comforts that shaped us in our formative years. And with the contradictory relationship between Lady Bird and her hometown comes an equally complex one between mother and daughter. Laurie Metcalf provides a fantastically convincing performance as Marion, Lady Bird’s mother, who mirrors her daughter in being consistently frustrated and confused by the other, like two incongruent jigsaw pieces. In spite of its fractious nature however, it is clear that this relationship is anchored by a strong love, albeit one that both find difficult to communicate.

Lady Bird 3

Lady Bird truly excels in its characterisation; even its smaller characters are given so much breathing room, be they Lady Bird’s parents, her friends or the boys she briefly dates. It is these characters who illuminate the themes that encircle the events of the film, namely the post-9/11 class tensions and political uncertainty of the early 2000s, the dawn of the digital age and the rejection of middle-aged Republicanism. In the midst of these ideas is the central concept Gerwig presents us with; not really knowing just how much we value home until we leave it. The film’s structure plays an instrumental role in reiterating this idea, composed of a series of carefully and vividly-composed moments in Lady Bird’s latter teenage years as she teeters on the brink of adulthood and independence. These moments are crafted in a woozy, vignette style at times, some beautiful and some sad, all of them illuminated by the nostalgic late-summer sunlight of California. In these moments life is depicted through the raw, intrinsic emotions of a particular experience and delivered with honesty and humour. Gerwig’s filmmaking style is truly admirable in the way that she realises people tends to look back on their youth as a series of scrapbook-like moments strung together by the feelings that underpinned them, rather than as a complete entity bound by closure and and certainty.

What sets Lady Bird apart from other coming-of-age films is the level of agency Gerwig ascribes her protagonist; Lady Bird is so intent on pursuing what she wants from life in terms of her life and relationships that she is not shy about jumping into things head first. The naturalistic dialogue and bold, layered central performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf provide the ramshackle charm and warmth that make this film so easy to relate to and so easy to fall in love with. With a wonderfully hopeful and evocative score provided by Jon Brion and Gerwig’s keen eye for characterisation, there is so much to adore about Lady Bird. It is a film littered with the ghosts of all of our adolescences, from the pseudo-intellectual mobile phone-sceptic Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) to Lady Bird’s high school best friend Julie who is ever-present in the highs and lows of her teenage journey (Beanie Feldstein). Lady Bird is an amalgamation of all the moments that make being a teenager equally wonderful and awful, and makes me endlessly excited to see what Greta Gerwig’s next directorial output might be.

2017 in Review: Top 10 Films

‘We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!’ – Professor Perlman, Call Me By Your Name

The end of the year is upon us once again. On a personal and professional level, 2017 has been full of achievements, some hardship, celebration and, most notably, change. Change is important, and it is this ethos that is reflective of the kind of innovation that can be seen in some of the films released this year, either by playing on classic formulas or building new ones entirely. Whilst the arrival of a fresh calendar year does not inherently alter anything other than the numbers in the date, it’s always interesting to reflect on the last year and the many unforgettable cinema experiences it gave us. This year has been rife with outstanding filmmaking from some of the most promising new filmmakers in the industry, particularly in the indie circuits, as well as brand new offerings from some of Hollywood’s great directors. Full of stand-out performances, particularly from female actors, 2017 has provided moments of film I will never forget, and I can’t wait to talk about them.

Please note: As always, some of these are technically 2016 films but I am basing the list on films which were released here in the UK in 2017.

Honourable Mentions:
The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker)
Christine (dir. Antonio Campos)
Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
The Love Witch (dir. Anna Biller)

10 – mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

mother!.jpg

In one of his most divisive turns as a director, Darren Aronofsky gave us his abrasive and tumultuous Biblical allegory, mother! in 2017, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple whose idyllic newly-renovated home is torn apart by the arrival of a horde of peculiar uninvited guests. The film was notable for polarising its audiences with its horrifying imagery and chaotic, convoluted themes, even prompting mass walk-outs across some cinemas. With an ingeniously executed concept and classic horror influences aplenty, I have to applaud mother! for the raw energy, momentum and terror it manages to convey whilst exploring the relationship between God and Mother Earth. It is truly a bold, unnerving piece of cinema and undoubtedly provided one of the most memorable viewing experiences of the year.

9 – The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan-wook)

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook has remained at the very forefront of South Korean cinema during the last two decades with his trademark brand of unnerving, unpredictable and meticulously-crafted action. Harking back to the evocative, often unpalatable imagery, and unforeseen twists and turns of 2003’s Oldboy, 2017’s psychological thriller, The Handmaiden, delivered the same sense of passionate, frenetically-paced storytelling and toys with its audience sadistically, much like the former. Set in 1930s Korea, every camera movement is agonisingly precise, every frame dense, lustrous and complex like a 17th century painting. Park Chan-wook once again uses his consistent attention to detail to create an enigmatic story rife with danger, allure and depravity.

8 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

Killing of a Sacred Deer 2

The Killing of a Sacred Deer was a film I was eagerly anticipating in 2017, and I certainly wasn’t alone in that after its director, Yorgos Lanthimos, proved his proficiency in writing surreal satire with the darkest of humour when he released The Lobster, his first English-language film in 2015. Unlike the former, however, his latest release is utterly chilling in tone with very little twisted comedic levity. Colin Farrell plays a successful surgeon whose unconventional friendship with the son of a patient who he once treated turns unnervingly sinister. Farrell’s performance is unlike anything I have seen from him before; stilted, audibly scripted and perfectly in line with the awkward and abrasive feel of the overall film. Mysterious, unpredictable and unsettling to the core, Lanthimos delivers a truly thrilling piece of filmmaking whose tension, clinical performances and electrifying cinematography culminate in its greatness.

7 – The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola)

The Beguiled

Featuring yet another set of exceptional leading performances by Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, The Beguiled marked Sofia Coppola’s sixth feature film, and explored similar themes of femininity, repression and the stifling oppression of suburbia, as many of her previous works did. Coppola has frequently discussed her desire to remake the 1971 Don Siegel classic from the perspective of its female characters, inhabitants of a girls’ school in Virginia during the American Civil War. The women lead a careful, dutiful and meticulously contrived life, epitomising the archetypal feminine example demanded by the fraught, regimented patriarchal era in which the events unfold. The true brilliance of The Beguiled stems from the slow unravelling of this equilibrium when the women reluctantly take in and nurse a wounded soldier, leading to mistrust and betrayal as desire takes hold of the situation. The dynamic between character marks the wonderfully nuanced performances of Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning in particular, all propped up by the idyllic location and the beautiful natural lighting Coppola uses to emphasise the dichotomy of sin and righteousness in this deeply repressed time period.

6 – Jackie (dir. Pablo Larraín)

Jackie

Perhaps the most underrated film featured on this year’s list is Pablo Larraín’s hauntingly intoxicating portrayal of America’s most influential First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, whose quiet resilience is brought to the screen with unparalleled depth and elegance by Natalie Portman. With equally nuanced accompanying performances provided by the likes of Peter Sarsgaard as the enigmatic Bobby Kennedy, Billy Crudup as the reporter peeling back the layers of grief, fear and disillusionment Jackie finds herself in the grips of following her husband’s infamous assassination. Whilst Jackie didn’t make the waves that were perhaps expected of it, this is truly a testament to how encumbered with strong filmmaking the past year has been. Through its exquisite costume design and 35mm cinematography and Mica Levi’s bone-chilling score, Jackie manages to capture the spirit of both its namesake, and of a people, in one of America’s darkest moments. (You can read my full review here).

5 – A Ghost Story (dir. David Lowery)

A Ghost Story

One of the year’s biggest surprises for me was David Lowery’s existentialist masterpiece, A Ghost Story. The titular story begins with the tragic and untimely death of a young musician, leaving behind his grief-stricken partner (Rooney Mara) in their formerly shared home in the sprawling, suburban south of America. From here, her partner remains in purgatory, watching over her day by day in a comically crude ghost get-up. The quiet power of this film creeps up on you unexpectedly, much like the concept of sprawling time it attempts to emulate. It ruminates painstakingly on drawn out moments, including a four-minute scene dedicating to watching Rooney Mara comfort-eat a pie, and eventually stretches out into great cyclical expanses of time, transcending generations and commenting all the while on the unforgiving relentlessness of the earth, contrasted with the meaningless transience of existence. (My full review can be found here).

4 – Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade)

Toni Erdmann.png

The fourth film in this list is one of which I will never forget my first viewing. Its surprisingly sharp combination of dry, absurdist humour, European idiosyncrasies and tangible, unspoken emotion makes it fantastically unique. Maren Ade’s bizarre and exceptionally-written German comedy, Toni Erdmann, is a multi-faceted, intelligent comedy, playing on the distinctive cultural delivery of German humour, and masterful visual storytelling to depict a complex and challenging father-daughter relationship. The number of times this film brought tears to my eyes is countless, which is partly a credit to Sandra Hüller’s incomparable performance as Ines, and Peter Simonischek’s memorable take on the pseudonymous Toni Erdmann character. You can’t help but bask in the harmoniously balanced joy and tragedy of this film, which perhaps makes it my favourite cinema experience of 2017. (You can read my review here).

3 – La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)

La La Land

La La Land signalled an outstanding start to 2017, and needs no real introduction due to how enamoured most filmgoers were with its near-flawless attempt at capturing Hollywood’s golden years and injecting a modern spin on the classic musical formula. I truly wondered after my first viewing how any other film could possibly top the way I felt about it, particular as Mia and Seb’s characters encapsulated so perfectly the dichotomous struggle between chasing dreams and keeping oneself grounded in reality. Not only was its story consistently compelling and heartbreaking, but the staggering flair, visual beauty and directorial prowess with which director Damien Chazelle helmed the film was simply astonishing for such a young director. It also proved itself as a hit even amongst non-musical fans, offering some of the most jubilant and joyous songs in its soundtrack in recent memory. La La Land is an instant classic, and will no doubt be revered as one of the most noteworthy cinematic achievements of the 21st century, particularly as it channels themes which are ever-present in each passing generation.

2 – 20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills)

20th Century Women

In 20th Century Women, Mike Mills has created an eloquent, all-knowing and poetic ode to his mother, the era of his youth and the tireless effervescence of California. In what was one of my favourite films released last year, Annette Bening plays a 50-something single mother who recruits help in raising her 15 year old son Jamie, from her punk lodger Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and her son’s childhood friend Julie (Elle Fanning). Not only does the film explore the loving, yet distant relationship between mother and son, but also intersects with the joys and woes of its multiple main characters against the sprawling sun-kissed backdrop of 1979 Santa Barbara. It has the power to deeply move with its insightful commentary on the mood of the era, as well as the ever-relatable qualms and dilemmas faced by its characters, brought to life vibrantly with a rich and beautiful colour palette and the suitably jangly new wave buzz of Talking Heads, Suicide and DEVO .

1 – Call Me By Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino)

Call Me By Your Name 5.jpg

Call Me By Your Name was one of the latter films I saw in the cinema during 2017, but you could say the best was saved until last. Based on André Aciman’s blisteringly romantic book of the same name, the film follows the intense but ephemeral relationship that blossoms between 17 year old Elio (Timotheé Chalamet) and 20-something postgraduate Oliver (Armie Hammer) who lodges with his family for the summer in 1983 Northern Italy. The visual detail director Luca Guadagnino carries in his direction is what creates the pure magic that exists between these characters, combining visual distance and awkardness with the fantastically uncertain and tentative performances delivered by both leads, as they navigate their blossoming but unspoken feelings for one another. Their chemistry is raw and tangible, and is continually complimented by the lustrous symbolic imagery provided by the Italian backdrop, with the summer setting only further enhancing the impermanence of their relationship. Call Me By Your Name has so much to say about love and heartbreak, summed up perfectly by Michael Stuhlbarg’s beautiful closing monologue; it is worth watching for this moment alone. Quite simply, this is film is a gorgeous and soulful masterpiece.

 

Fin.

Call Me By Your Name: Review

Call Me By Your Name 3

Call Me By Your Name is a mesmerising, sun-drenched masterpiece of romantic coming-of-age cinema and possesses a raw, soulful energy that solidifies it as my personal favourite film of the year thus far. Central to what is considered the third instalment of director Luca Guadagnino’s ‘desire’ trilogy, preceded by 2009’s I Am Love and 2015’s A Bigger Splash, is a languid, indulgent and sensuous exploration of self-discovery, blossoming sexuality and the dizzy heights of first love. Armie Hammer is Oliver, a twenty-something graduate spending the summer of 1983 in lush Lombardy, Italy, a guest of the Perlman family. Their summers revolve around the pursuit of endeavours of the heart and mind, helmed by Michael Stuhlbarg’s insightful Professor Perlman, whose commentary on the academic world he inhabits provides some of the film’s most poignantly pivotal moments. His son, Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is an audacious yet visibly bored 17-year old, navigating his young adult existence through his idyllic surroundings as well as his own artistic interests. Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet capture perfectly the nuances of attraction, dancing tentatively around the strings which so clearly draw the pair together, yet maintaining a cautious distance as each ponders the possibility of reciprocation from the other.

Where this film excels best, perhaps, is in the extraordinary feeling of intimacy that stems from Guadagdino’s invisible camera presence, always maintaining a steady distance from its subjects. We often witness Oliver and Elio’s interactions at arm’s length, be that looking down from a second-storey window, watching the pair in a door frame at the end of a hallway, or from the corner of their bedrooms. Not only does this capture beautifully the dynamic nature of their relationship, but also contributes to the blissfully immersive experience one has in watching the relationship unfold. And the chemistry. Oh, the chemistry. Of course this review was inevitably going to talk about chemistry, as would be expected regarding any romantic film which places such emphasis on unspoken connections and inarticulate feelings. And what underpins the heady beauty of Oliver and Elio’s connection is the tangible chemistry illustrated so effortlessly by Hammer and Chalamet.

Call Me By Your Name 6

Through its woozy, unadulterated hedonism, Guadagnino champions the power of touch within the film, directing his actors to create a rich and tactile chemistry that infiltrates every lingering shot, every gaze and every symbolic image. The film’s widely-discussed sex scene is spearheaded by the simple gesture of characters sitting at the end of a bed, touching feet, evoking the electricity of the moment more erotically and organically than any salacious or exploitative sexual depiction. Guadagnino’s true talent is his proclivity for channelling desire through all facets of his photography: a ripe, sun-kissed peach hanging enticingly from a branch, a cigarette passed between fingers, the silent presence of an onlooker watching the other from a leaf-shaded window. The intimacy of his camera, vibrancy of his palette and considered, intelligent choice of imagery brings this idea of desire to life sumptuously.

One of Guadagdino’s greatest triumphs and, indeed, the main source of sadness underpinning the story, is the way he handles the ephemeral nature of Elio and Oliver’s love, mirrored by the blissful summer days stretching out as a visual and tonal backdrop for the film. The rich greens, crumbling Italian buildings and palpably warm rays of sunlight which make up the film’s glorious, sensual imagery evokes the ever-relatable feeling of the fleeting beauty of summer and the feeling of limitless possibility that accompanies it. Through the purity of this love story, it is impossible not to bask in the feelings of joy and pleasure and melancholy which emanate from the quiet magnetism that exists between Elio and Oliver.

Call Me By Your Name 5

Complementing the film’s central ideas of love and desire is its fusion of opposing, yet timeless art styles and tastes. Professor Perlman is perhaps the most conspicuous example of this; an insightful proponent of classical art, literature and sculpture, whose commentaries on the sexual and romantic endeavours of ancient sculptors coalesce perfectly with the ageless concepts which form the backbone of film itself and the unfolding relationship between our two cautious protagonists. The beautiful and haunting piano score which overlays this relationship is juxtaposed with the lively new wave buzz of the 1980s decade in which the film takes place, capturing masterfully the youthful, carefree spirit of the era.

Bringing Call Me By Your Name to a close is the delightfully melancholic combination of Sufjan Stevens’ Visions of Gideon, preceded by a beautiful, raw and eloquent speech from Michael Stuhlbarg’s Professor Perlman, touching on the importance and beauty of experiencing one’s emotions as fully and intensely as possible, in times of pain and joy. It is this indescribably touching and tender conversation between Perlman and his son, Elio, which cements the rapturous purity of Elio and Oliver’s brief relationship, and serves as a potent reminder that love does not need to be experienced over any great breadth of time to be true and enduring. Call Me By Your Name is flawlessly gorgeous, awe-inspiring, electrifying cinema and will be a difficult film for others this year to eclipse.