Call Me By Your Name

Seventeen year old Elio is facing another season at his parents’ summer home somewhere in boring, idyllic Northern Italy when the clouds part, the angels sing, and a yellow ray of sunshine pools on the golden head of a god, arriving by taxi. Actually it’s Oliver, a grad student about to spend the next 6 weeks helping out Elio’s father, a professor. Elio is immediately smitten.

It’s complicated, though, and it’ll take those full 6 weeks for the two young men to reach the peak of their affair. It’s the summer of 1983 and neither one is ‘out’; what we see is their friendship, the confidences they share, the fumbling flirtation. It’s a quiet movie, as 913a movie must be between two characters who are still learning about themselves, and in some cases, learning to repress. The pace is languid, but after 132 minutes, I’m thinking more about what’s left out than what is covered. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) share a mostly silent passion. Have they ever been attracted to men before? Are they afraid of being seen? Their affair exists within a bubble – isolated in a small village, surrounded by intellectuals, sheltered. But there’s always a sense that the affair cannot last.

We feel the blush of their first love. But director Luca Guadagnino does not want us to see much more than that, does not want the reality of gay sex to change the tone of the movie. Why doesn’t he trust us? In an otherwise beautiful film about desire, theirs is the only physical intimacy that we don’t see. When one of them hooks up with a woman, we eavesdrop on their thrusting and grunting. We even get fairly graphic with some person-on-peach sex. But when Elio and Oliver come together the camera looks away. The only real nudity is female.

And that has left me feeling off-balance. I can only praise the performances by Hammer and especially by Chalamet – his energy, his wit. Although Elio is the younger of the two, and voices more self-doubt, we actually see them negotiate a balance in their relationship that feels very healthy and mature. And though Oliver is adamant that he wants neither of them to get hurt, we see how woundable Elio really is, how vulnerable. This isn’t just love but self-discovery, mutual discovery, only some of which will be lasting.  Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) counsels him to stay this way, thin-skinned, to not close himself off to pain, even in heartbreak. And Oliver wonders if that’s the real difference between the two: not their age or experience, but their parents. And we’re left to think on that as the credits roll. Who might they have been had they both had supportive families? It is in these final minutes of the film when we finally feel emotionally connected to the material, and to the characters. This is the beating heart of the film. It’s just too bad it’s saved for last.

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17 thoughts on “Call Me By Your Name

  1. raistlin0903

    Great post. I’ve seen some very good reviews overall for this film. I think it might definitely get some Oscar nominations. I understand your thoughts about feeling off balance by the way. It almost feels a bit as if the director is kind of cheating in a way. Still, the film does sound good.
    Thanks for all the great posts you have all written this year. All the best for 2018, looking forward to seeing some great reviews again next year 😊

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  2. Katrina Morrison

    Beautifully written about a tender subject. I understand what you mean about being “unbalanced” due to the sex scene with the female. I was looking forward to seeing this film; but, I hesitated after all the sexual harassment charges going on in Hollywood. Particularly, after the Kevin Spacey sexual harassment scandal with a minor. Yet,I love the Arts. After all, people are not asking for the ban of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet due to her being a minor. Your post encourages me to see the movie. It sounds like a lovely Film.

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  3. Birgit

    I heard nothing but good things about this film. If it is filmed in Northern Italy, I wonder if I would recognize any places as my Aunt lives in Brixen or Bressenonne Italy which is near the Dolomites

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    1. Jay Post author

      I believe it was primarily shot in Crema, and in the villages of Pandino and Moscazzano – you’ll have to let us know if you recognize anything!

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  4. Liz A.

    If it’s in the ending that the story really gels, does that make it different on a future viewing? Because sometimes that sort of ending really informs a film. Glad you liked it.

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  5. Jeff the Chef

    I have to agree with you about the film’s pacing. It moves so slowly, and then burst into a torrent of emotion and meaning. But I wonder if that is meant to symbolize the unfolding of their relationship.

    If ever anyone deserved an Oscar, it’s Chalamet, for this performance. It was beyond believable. Also, Hammer, whom I’ve up until now I’ve thought of as just a nice-looking guy who came from money, really opened my eyes.

    In terms of storytelling, I don’t mind that the film left out the greater social context of homosexuality during that era. To me, the story was far too intimate to include that kind of breadth. It’s about Elio, telling us how he fell in love for the first time, and wanting to emphasize how deeply and honestly he fell, and how it was, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and intimate to a profound degree. I think he leaves everything else out, so as to truly highlight the central focus of what he wants to put across.

    Similarly, I liked that we didn’t get to see much of their physical intimacy, because I think that in the very act of watching something intimate, it becomes less intimate.

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