“Call Me by Your Name” is a film designed by a filmmaker’s influences and his originality. Being the first entry in my Craves of the Week section of film reviews, “Call Me by Your Name” was a film that, like adulthood responsibilities, has crept up on me over time. Set in 1983 Italy, “Call Me by Your Name’ is like that of any romance in which our characters are somehow forced to meet one another and spend time with each other. In this case, Elliot (Timothee Chalamet) is the son of a Professor who allows his summer home to be the residence for an internship so that doctorate students, like Oliver (Armie Hammer), can write their thesis. Nothing to do in this summer villa other than reading, writing poetry, swimming, and writing music. Manifesting a beautiful friendship, maybe more than a friendship, that is built over time between Elliot (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer). The atmospheric intoxication swirls into the story as the wind gushes through the marsh of this Italian setting, the oranges begin to ripe, the summer essence swirls, and our characters start to embark on a story that will reside in their hearts for forever.
The film was one of my favorites of the extraordinary year that 2017 was for filmmaking, but I felt the movie maintained integral issues in its leisurely meandering story. The first act was gradual like the opening of a symphony building to its crescendo, and the second act was worthwhile but never as spellbinding as I would’ve liked. Over time, “Call Me by Your Name” continued to echo a feeling of poignancy that I couldn’t place my finger upon. On the first watch, I found myself trickling with tears down my face when the story’s final credits appeared on screen in that luminous character moment with Elliot (Timothee Chamelet) staring into the hypnotic sparks of the fireplace. On the second watch I sobbed, and on the third, I bawled with sorrow for these characters. Slowly, “Call Me by Your Name” became a film of significant impact for myself, both aesthetically and emotionally. One of the many reasons as to why that is; is Luca Guadagnino's inspired originality as a filmmaker.
Guadagnino is a filmmaker attempting to paradoxically manifest a unique style while maintaining obscurity from the story. He, like some of his influences, is crafting something from an aloof perspective of direction in which his style can only become noticeable when watching the film intently, but it becomes natural when you begin to follow the story. The filmography of the screenwriter behind “Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory, is extensively adopted into Guadagnino’s direction here, in how Ivory’s films are usually pompous and prudent, but they maintain a living essence to them. He, like Guadagnino, juxtaposes the characters evocations for empathy and resonance with that of nature. The long breaching shots of this beautifully untouched Italian town creates an engulfed scenery that allows for our characters to breathe.
He drives us to feel this intoxicating atmosphere that, on the first watch, felt trivial. These sweeping summertime moments felt like they we’re impeding upon the story. But on each rewatch, I began to soak into Guadagnino's setting. Like that of Oliver (Armie Hammer), I began to seep into “heaven.” Relaxing and trusting Guadagnino’s storytelling as it lingered and hypnotized me like that of Sufjan Stevens rhythmic acoustics intoxicate the story with another tactile sensation. The lushness of this visual beauty is where Guadagnino draws inspiration from a filmmaker like Eric Rohmer by endorsing naturalistic camera movements. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s 35mm cinematography is used from the point of natural perspective. Following the story like a third-party observer in which the editing is never manipulative, and the movements provide an engulfing feel of depth. The countless long takes used in “Call Me by Your Name” never stopped me or made me notice the technical prose of Guadagnino. Instead, the camera blends into the story for us to feel the space that these characters inhabit and their growing charge of emotion for one another, a sentiment that is entranced by Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer.
Their chemistry is genuine, and it translates physically and not verbally. Another trait of Ivory in which Elliot’s (Timothee Chalamet) growing attraction towards Oliver (Armie Hammer) is translated from dialogue into action. Their characters prickle toward each other: testing, pushing, stressing, tenderly and giddily peeling away at one another. We watch as Elliot’s (Timothee Chalamet) nervousness, lust, and love begins to develop for Oliver (Armie Hammer). Andre Aciman’s novella provides a far more in-depth translation of Elliot’s (Timothee Chalamet) amplifying desire for Oliver (Armie Hammer), but Aciman is more focused upon Elliot’s (Timothee Chalamet) flourishing from sexual lust to emotional affection.
Guadagnino is more focused on the narrative art of a kid learning about the ideas exhilaration and infatuation for another. While Aciman provides more of a character study, Guadagnino delivers a thematically focused story in how we, as humans, have to accept the sorrow and pain that comes with the loss of one’s affection so that we can remember the joy that it stemmed from. Elliot’s (Timothee Chalamet) father discusses this in a scene constructed with a warm texture in which Mr. Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) states “Just remember, our bodies and hearts are given to us only once, and before you know it your heart worn out. And as for your body, there comes a point where no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now there is sorrow and pain, don’t kill it, and with it the joy you felt.”
This is a quote of dialogue that almost summarizes my lack of resonance with the film’s narrative upon the first watch. As a man who finds himself in the middle of the sexual spectrum, playing both sides like Elliot (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), I couldn’t help but prepare for an on-coming conflict or resistance to the relationship these characters founded in the soothing calmness of Italy’s marsh landscape. I was awaiting someone to interject words and phrases like “abomination” or “the Bible says,” but there was no collision of ideologies to be found. No challenges were made to their affair, and when I began to stop anxiously preparing to "kill" that sorrow and pain that I was so confident would interject into my viewing experience, I started to revel in the film’s euphoric joy.
The narrative art to be found is not in the confines in which this relationship can manifest, but in how the story allows us to recontextualizes love as something that instructs us as much as it evokes us. Much like Guadagnino’s influences evoke his style to come to light. It’s Guadagnino’s cinephilia, his love for films from this lineage of subtle greatness, that crafts a form that is palpably echoing with texture. You don’t need a radical style to create something extraordinary, but sometimes the most impactful effects of filmmaking arrive from our influences. Bringing them together, and calling them by our own name.