Review by Dash Wilson.
I’ll be honest. I had never heard of this film and was completely unaware of what it was about when I saw it on the opening day of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). If you haven’t yet seen this film – please stop reading this right now as it will ruin it. Just see it. Immediately.
Set in the 1980s, Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet of TV’s Homeland) is an intelligent, seventeen-year-old living at his parent’s farm in northern Italy. Oliver (Armie Hammer, The Social Network, The Lone Ranger) is a twenty-four-year-old American academic who comes to stay on the farm and work with Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) and written by James Ivory (A Room with a View, The Remains of the Day), Call Me by Your Name was the breakout film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is based on the novel of the same name by Andre Aciaman.
Many people talk about getting lost in a film and just going for the ride. At first, I wasn’t sure where the film was going or if I was even enjoying it but within half-an-hour I was completely mesmerised by what was on screen. Superbly written and directed, particular mention has to go to the film’s Thai-Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (the Arabian Nights trilogy). Shot on only one lens through the entire film, the scenes around the small Italian town glisten with beauty. Guadagnino and Mukdeeprom have admitted to trying to keep the visual aspect of the film as simple as possible in order to keep the focus on the performances and the story. Call Me by Your Name achieves this in that the very simplicity of the cinematography makes the film not only inviting but also completely believable.
Shot on only one lens through the entire film, the scenes around the small Italian town glisten with beauty.
An American, French, Brazilian and Italian co-production with a relatively small budget in today’s terms, the script crackles with humour, intelligence and wit. A minor issue though was that there are about four different languages spoken during the film (French, German, Italian and English). Yes, it makes the film feel more poetic and romantic but one could question the relevance of this in reality. Does one really just randomly speak other languages at home, even if bilingual? It is a minor contrivance, but it is one worth noting.
That being said, this film is an early contender for film of the year because of the performances. The entire cast is exquisite. Hamer has never been better. He should do more films like Call Me by Your Name, and a lot less like The Lone Ranger. The revelation though is Chalamet. Every expression and behaviour from Elio (Chalamet) is so perfectly executed that you become completely entranced when he is on screen. It is an Oscar-worthy performance, and, if there is any justice in this world then it will be his breakout to stardom.
Call Me by Your Name is of these rare films that the more I think about it, the better it gets. It is a film that sneaks up on you, digs deep into your veins and then stays there. It is at its best in the final third when Oliver is getting ready to leave Italy to head back to the United States. While handled in such a subtle way, the film evokes some profoundly deep emotions and it honestly deserves the critical praise it is getting. Yes, as viewers we want to be distracted and entertained but ultimately we are all looking for something that connects with us and makes us feel… understood. Call Me by Your Name does that and so much more. The penultimate scene on the couch with Elio and his father is one of the finest pieces of cinema I have seen, ever. It is so sublimely honest that I dare even the darkest of souls not to be moved by it.
Many are calling this film close to a masterpiece. Whilst some may disagree, I found the ending far too hopeless. Why is it that every gay film is about heartbreak? For me the film should have ended after the couch scene. The novel actually extends the ending quite considerably in comparison to the film and I just don’t know if I believe that Oliver would move on like he does (although it was the 1980s). I also don’t think, necessarily, that their phone call should have been explained, or seen by the audience.
With all that being said, the flip side to this is that true love is never easy and that is exactly what the film is about. Just like the human condition and the ambiguity of life; things are never as they appear. As a poetic, understated piece of cinema about the joy and sorrow of first love, they don’t come much better than Call Me by Your Name.
Reviewed at the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).
Review by Dash Wilson.