Call Me By Your Name – Review by David Minogue
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Written by James Ivory, Luca Guadagnino, Walter Fasano
Cinematography – Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Editor – Walter Fasano
Cast – Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Esther Garrel, Victoire du Bois.
Call Me By Your Name is the third film in Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s Desire Trilogy. It follows the excellent I Am Love (2009) and the less successful A Bigger Splash (2015). Tilda Swinton played the protagonist in the first two films and she will also feature in Guadagnino’s forthcoming remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. None of the Desire trilogy’s films are directly linked in relation to character and plot but they all share similar themes of desire and love. All three films feature a character that creates a disturbance in the life of each film’s protagonist. In Call Me by Your Name the stranger is an American doctoral student called Oliver (Armie Hammer). He travels to Lombardy in Italy for a six-week stay in the summer of 1983 where he studies and researches Greco-Roman archaeology with an American-Italian professor. During this time he lives with Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife Amalla (Amira Casar). The couple are quickly charmed by their guest whose charisma and confidence is well depicted in the film’s early scenes. It is the Perlman’s 17-year son Elio (Timothée Chalamet) who becomes the most enamoured by Oliver and their initial friendship grows into something much deeper and significant. Elio is a teenager who has grown up in a life of privilege and surrounded by high culture and art. He has spent his previous summers in his family’s large summer house where everything is done for them by their housekeeper Mafalda (Vanda Capriolo). Elio is on the cusp of becoming an adult and in ways, he is older than his years. However, it is his emotional maturity that is explored and depicted within the film. This is a coming of age and coming out story with some of the repression but without much of the homophobia of the age it is set in.
Call Me By Your Name is adapted from André Aciman’s 2009 novel. It has an interesting production history in that it was originally supposed to be directed by both Luca Guadagnino and James Ivory. Ivory instead chose to work just as the film’s screenwriter but the final cut of the film included several changes to the script by Guadagnino and the film’s editor Walter Fasano. These involved making the relationship between Oliver and Elio more emotional than sexual. The film has already been labelled a gay romantic drama but it is universal in that it explores the wider spectrum of sexual identification. The central relationship within the film is between Elio and Oliver but there are also some layers of complexity in their friendships with two women in the film (Esther Garrel, Victoire du Bois). In doing so it puts some of the female characters in a stereotypical role that is often found in dramas of this type. Like the previous two films in the Desire trilogy female sexuality is depicted more graphically on screen than the central male characters.
The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is evocative throughout. It helps to create the Perlman’s home and the surrounding countryside as a world within itself. It captures the memory of a seemingly perfect summer. The music in the film also accurately helps to convey the many feelings that Elio encounters during Oliver’s stay. These include how he changes the chords of classical music on the piano to suit him his own mood. Songs by The Psychedelic Furs, Joe Esposito and F.R. David are all an integral part of the background to Elio’s emotional awakening. There are also three songs by Sufjan Stevens that work beautifully within the film’s structure.
Armie Hammer is one of those actors who has classic movie star looks and his handsomeness is central to his character. It is, without doubt, one of his most assured performances to date. He is flirtatious and restrained in equal measure. There is never anything untoward in his character. Acting nominations in awards season are sometimes bestowed from one single scene and in this film that may happen because of a single conversation Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father has with his son. It will also be one of the film’s talking points. This is absolutely Timothée Chalamet’s film. It is his point of view that is presented throughout and it is his journey to self-realisation that the audience experiences.