Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino has a fascination with the heat of summer, all while never calling direct attention to it. His films, including last year’s A Bigger Splash, and this year’s awards contender Call Me By Your Name, externalize summer in behaviors, passions, emotions, and the growing up that occurs when life obligations are put on hold and our true inner selves are invited out to play.
Call Me By Your Name fully lives up to its hype. What Guadagnino accomplished with A Bigger Splash in terms of kinetic atmosphere and heightened emotion, he does tenfold with Call Me By Your Name, adding a full-proof script that intensifies and humanizes the classic coming-of-age tale. Timothée Chalamet, starring as the seventeen-year-old Elio, steals every single scene and somehow dominates his over-confident counterpart Oliver, played charmingly by Armie Hammer, through a striking a powerful vulnerability expressed way beyond his years. Guadagnino taps into the feeling of first love and heartbreak quite unlike anyone before him, and will leave audiences feeling the pangs long after the credits roll.
The film follows Elio, an Italian-American teen spending the summer with his parents in 1983 Northern Italy. When Oliver, a twenty-six-year-old American joins Elio’s father as his research assistant, Elio’s summer gets a lot more interesting. The story takes off from there as a mutual contention turns into a friendship and finally a strong hidden relationship that promises to change Elio forever.
The key to the relationship is Guadagnino’s expert building of tension. They begin at a place of annoyance and avoidance that eventually comes to expose an inherent electricity between the two, one that, through their shared intellectual and sexual curiosity, doesn’t soak in the story for too long. A shared affinity for language leads the two down exciting roads of entendre and sweet revelation that builds jaw-dropping and rich subtext throughout the film. Once the tension is broken, the pure and innocent relief that follows is salaciously indulgent for the viewer, to the point that the audience will feel ripped apart at even the threat of renewed separation.
While Guadagnino milks every last inch of cinematography, score, soundtrack, location, and time period to tell his love story, their application do their jobs in highlighting the remarkable execution of script and performance. The film captures the raw confusion and inhibition of the coming-of-age story. Elio’s hopes and fears are worn on his sleeve, while his true emotion cuts each scene like a knife’s blade as he tries to both edge, suppress, and dive into the unknown, all at the same time.
Chalamet captures this feeling with pure abandon, just as his character would, erasing the line between performance and lived reality. Chalamet melts, fights, and loves along with Elio every step of the way and presents enough of a vulnerable steadiness to dismantle Oliver’s walled cocksure front. Oliver melts right with Elio, and Hammer gives the performance of his career. Portraying a seeming playboy, a character that Hammer is no stranger to, he transitions his character into a new plane of being, revealing Oliver’s shared need for connection, and a believable dependence and love for Elio, a boy 9 years his junior. Toward the end, Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father puts a nail in the figurative emotional coffin, bringing the story of a chaotic summer romance to a calm and steady head.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Fall in love with Call Me By Your Name just as willingly and deeply as Elio and Oliver themselves. It deserves our attention and praise, not only for its emotional impact, but also for its technical mastery over the unification of script, performance, and creative direction. Guadagnino, Chalamet, and Hammer are at the very top of their games, and this film is not one to be missed this year.