Film Review: 'Call Me By Your Name'
When we're first introduced to a lush Italian countryside in the summer, set to an absolutely entrancing score, the mood is already magical. The dreamlike setting, almost too perfect to be real, begins evoking feelings of nostalgia, of memories long passed - even if we ourselves don't have memories of 1980's Italy.
It's within this idyllic stage that director Luca Guadagnino tells a tender love story of a brief but impactful romance in both of the lives of its two subjects: Elio (Timothée Chalamet) the musically-gifted, seventeen-year-old son of professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) ; and Oliver (Armie Hammer), Mr. Perlman's twenty-four-year-old live-in student assistant for the summer. While the two are certainly well-versed in their fields - Elio musically and Oliver academically - they could both learn a thing or two about love. Cue this summer of affection.
Perhaps more than any other Best Picture nominee this year, save for The Shape of Water, the soundtrack for Call Me By Your Name is spectacular. Perhaps it's a natural artistic extension of Elio's musical talents, as we frequently see him playing guitar and piano. He thinks in music. He speaks the language of notes and rhythm. When we are swept off our feet by the film's score, we understand his language, and music becomes our window of understanding to the film.
No wonder the soundtrack swoons at key moments between Elio and Oliver. No wonder Oliver develops an interest in Elio's piano time, often asking him to play songs differently, the way someone else would. The relationship is, at first, more of Oliver being dismissive of and gently picking on Elio. But that's just the way the game is played sometimes, right?
It's a relationship that takes its time to grow, as Elio does all of the figuring out and reading between the lines that come with courtship. The film's pacing certainly reflects that. It feels longer than its runtime of two hours and twelve minutes, if only because Guadignino copiously catalogs the moments leading to an explosion of romance and the subsequent resolution. And beyond the two, Elio has his own emotions to sort out as well, as he juggles another romance with Marzia (Esther Garrel), whose deep-seated affection for him is abundantly clear.
The story is so masterfully told that emotions seen on screen are real and tangible. Although I have not read André Aciman's original novel, it's plainly clear that Guadagnino and company made their adaptation so vividly real that it felt like the slow, page-turning emotional ups and downs of a novel. It's a six-week romance during an Italian summer condensed into a feature-length film, and even if I wish it could have shaved off some extra time, there are others for whom it went by too fast, wishing for it to have lasted just a little bit longer. Our protagonist wishes the same thing.
This gentle, poetic, and beautifully shot film is a window into a pocket of time, a treasured trove of memories. The story of Elio and Oliver may end, but in Elio's heart and mind - just in the way we can replay the movie - the emotions last forever.
Rated R. 132 minutes.
Written by James Ivory (screenplay) and Andre Aciman (novel).
Directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Starring Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, and Michael Stuhlbarg.