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.
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.
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.