31 Days, 31 Movies 12/14: Call Me By Your Name

Two very pressing questions arise from Call Me By Your Name.  How did Italians in the 80s possibly keep their penises in shorts that small? And if you fuck a peach to completion is it a 85 or 95% chance you become a serial killer?  Luca Guadagnino did not set out to ask and certainly not to answer either of these questions in his newest coming-of-age film.  Call Me By Your Name is an exceptionally beautiful film to look at that tells the story of falling in love for the first time and really discovering love in its many complex forms from romantic to platonic and familial.

Call Me By Your Name is a Claude Monet painting in cinematic form.  The scenic 1980s Italian countryside and the beautiful lilting Sufjan Stevens score are a perfect backdrop to an incredibly beautiful story of a young man finding love.  I’ve never seen another Luca Guadagnino film but it looks like from his filmography that he has a rapturous adoration for love and telling stories of love.  Which comes through in this film, the care with which he tells the story of his two main characters draws in the audience.  From the opening shot, an aerial view of Oliver (Armie Hammer) arriving at the Perlman’s villa you feel like you’re watching the through Elio’s eyes (Timothée Chalamet).  Oliver is shot like one would a superhero for the first half of the film, both in wide shot and low angles, making Hammer–who already towers over everyone in the film– feel like he’s larger than life.  For the first hour of the film Elio idealizes Oliver and such the camera looks upon him with reverence and worship; the moment that the spell breaks Oliver is shot as equal to Elio in close up and with a lingering camera.  However, Guadagnino does make some missteps in direction; the one that stuck with me most was during a sex scene the camera pans from the bed to stop on the scene outside the window which is this pointed dark shot of the Italian night sky broken up by haunting silhouettes of trees.  It’s an excellent shot for a thriller, not so well executed in the moment.

Guadagnino has a subtlety that I admire, I found the fly a particularly deft touch.  He uses the errant fly in scenes seeming to represent the aching of love the characters feel.  We see it in scenes with Elio throughout the first act of the film, most strikingly in the scene when he is waiting for Oliver’s return to the villa.  Then when Oliver briefly feels slighted by Elio the fly zips around his room, all building up to the ending credit sequence, it is a beautiful touch.  Guadagnino has an incredible eye for the still shot, I found myself wishing that he would draw some of them out even more–a personal favorite is a shot when Oliver and Elio are riding their bikes on a winding path and we sit and watch their bikes move slowly all the way out into the end of the frame it’s visual art at its peak.

There has been a lot of praise for the performances in this film and while I have to admit I was surprised at Armie Hammer’s performance in particular, I can’t say either he or Timothée Chalamet (who I liked better in Lady Bird) really blew me away.  It always feels like saying something or someone was good not great is an insult but being  good actor is one of the hardest things there is, and Hammer Chalamet give good performances in Call Me By Your Name.  There are undeniably some exemplary moments, the scene at the dance is a high point for Chalamet who demonstrates an ability to act without the need for dialogue that so many young actors miss so much.  Also the end credits is captivating and beautiful and I cannot imagine how difficult that would be to execute as an actor.  Michael Stuhlbarg, coming directly off of The Shape of Waterabsolutely steals the show with three scenes though–if you are on the fence about seeing this movie you should go just to see Stuhlbarg’s final soliloquy.  Esther Garrel also gives a fantastic supporting performance as Marzia.  Possibly the biggest surprise of the film is the care that Guadagnino gives to the Marzia-Elio storyline, to the benefit of the characters and the story he is developing.

The age difference both of the actors and the characters is distracting for a moment; Armie Hammer is a 31 year old playing a 24 year old who has a relationship with Timothée Chalamet, a 21 year old playing a 17 year old.  I can certainly see it upsetting some people, but it never really feels like you’re watching anything insidious at all.

Call Me By Your Name made me want to go to the Italian countryside and fall in love and go swimming and ride a bike with a booky Italian woman. And while at times the cinematography and the writing are less than stellar the story the film is trying to tell it shows the joy and the crushing pain of your first love with such beauty and stillness that  it almost makes you want experience it all over again–almost.

Conclusion:

Call Me By Your Name is an exceptionally beautiful movie: it is beautiful to look at, beautiful to listen to, and it tells a beautiful story.  Guadagnino’s eye for mise-en-scène is astounding and papers over some of the cracks in the film.

Rating: 86

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