Tenacity and Nuance: A Review of "Call Me By Your Name" ☆

January 14, 2018

One of the things that jutted out to me after I left the movie theatre (stunned, with a heart as full as it was broken) was the absence of a traditional cinematic moment where mutual feelings are spoken aloud, thrust pivotally into the open. A clean-cut variation of “I like you,” made conspicuous for the audience. How in Call Me By Your Name, it goes without saying that the attraction simmers tantalisingly, irrevocably, from Elio and Oliver’s very first meeting. A tension-thick subtext permeating the cobblestone bike rides, crystalline swimming trips, sun-drenched breakfasts spent in each others company. Indefinable but always there, flaring up at certain points. Never vocalised or discussed, but clarified wholeheartedly through action. How this inexplicit intimacy, this lack of an identifiable catalyst, worked to map a secret world between them—both profoundly recognisable and never entirely in the vicinity of the person watching—felt like the most authentic portrayal of love. 


Over the course of an idyllic and picturesque summer set "Somewhere In Northern Italy," Elio Perlman, the seventeen-year-old son of an archeology professor, forms a relationship with Oliver, a visiting scholar from America. Though “relationship” feels ill-fit a descriptor for the visceral magnitude of what they share. The film is set in the 80’s, though the events seem to unfold on a surreptitious timeline all their own. Music is the only feature that speaks directly to context—in a nighttime dance sequence where Elio sits among a cluster of friends, smoking and surveying the acclaimed newcomer wooing a woman. The Psychedelic Furs' Love My Way comes on; his friends hurry to the dance floor. He remains seated for a while, gaze still steady on Oliver, the reasoning both unfathomable and plain. 


To watch tentative fascination flourish into a bond so sensually electric, and a subsequent surrender so emphatically raw to behold, was a gift. So palpable is Oliver and Elio’s chemistry, so earnest and immense their desires, that a certain sanctity feels innate. It’s rare we see a love story devoid of external forces intervening, or plot devices posited to prove the degree of ones love. Call Me By Your Name sees all the standard shocks, twists and exhilarations compounded in Elio and Oliver's feelings for each other. And it is, to the credit of Timotheé Chalamet and Armie Hammer's chemistry, enough. The films subtleness and unhurried pacing house a weight that further dialogue might have squandered, and what could have easily been exploitative flashiness is instead fervid tenderness—courtesy of director Luca Gudagnino’s knowing talent to preserve and emphasise the fundamental purity of love. With little happening in the conventional sense, Call My By Your Name feels overwhelmingly fulfilling. Gratification derived from something as minor as shared proximity; minutiae moments magnified through a reverent lens. You are seeing through Elio and Oliver’s eyes, as they see each other. 


Gudagnino wants you to focus only on the mortality of connection, and the capacity we have to love: vulnerably, curiously, immeasurably. Without the ubiquitous necessity of adhering to a label. In one of the best and final scenes, Elio’s father talks to him ensuing Oliver’s departure, revealing his knowledge not just of their relationship but of what it means to be a person, feeling the things his son has felt. “Our hearts and bodies are given to us only once,” he states with warmth, and in the dark I seized the line, marvelling at how it seemed Elio and Oliver had been embracing this philosophy unbeknownst to them for their brief span of time together. The beauty of Call Me By Your Name is in its tenacity and nuance, the simultaneous simplicity and intricacy felt in everything tacit. Artfully summarised by Mr. Perlman when he says, encompassing loves throughout all of time: “What you two had, had nothing and everything to do with intelligence.” ☆


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