When I first saw the new film “Call Me by Your Name,” I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The lush and summery setting, the carefree attitudes of the characters, the intense, emotional love the main characters feel for one another all ran through my head until I could see it a second time.
The film was like a vivid dream. I had to watch it again not to find new meaning or remember the details but to confirm that the film’s events had occurred in such a mystifyingly beautiful way. I watched in the same way one recalls a memory and discusses it rapidly with others.
“Call Me by Your Name,” adapted by writer James Ivory from André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, follows the lives of protagonists Elio and Oliver across six weeks of one summer. It is 1983 when Oliver, a 24-year-old American graduate student played by Armie Hammer, arrives in Northern Italy to stay with the Perlman family and study classical art under the father, a professor of archaeology.
Oliver shares the upstairs of the Perlman’s home with the 17-year-old Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet. The fact that Oliver takes Elio’s bedroom, along with the arrogance and hastiness that Elio perceives in Oliver even when his parents don’t, creates an initial awkwardness and disrupts Elio’s plan of “waiting for summer to end.”
What follows this initial awkwardness is first a hesitant friendship then a romantic relationship, as Elio comes to understand his feelings and admit them to Oliver. Though Elio and Oliver must grapple with the realities of their love, the film never slips into melodrama.
Chalamet, who also appeared in 2017’s critically acclaimed “Lady Bird,” performs masterfully in “Call Me by Your Name.” Ivory’s writing includes little internal monologue or discussion of Elio’s thoughts, and it is Chalamet’s acting that puts us deep into Elio’s mind.
Private moments, such as Elio reading Oliver’s notes or sniffing his clothing, give insight into Elio’s development as Chalamet conveys uneasiness of a young person confronting unfamiliar feelings and the nervousness of a first, true love.
Admittedly, the film moves slowly, and the characters rarely tell viewers what to think. That is until Professor Perlman, played by Michael Stuhlbarg in the best single-scene performance of the film, delivers a powerful monologue to his son.
“To make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything, what a waste … Right now, there’s sorrow and pain. Don’t kill it, and with it the joy you felt,” says the professor with tears in his eyes.
Though the development of Elio and Oliver’s romance seems sudden, director Luca Guadagnino lays out all the signs for us, and it is on viewers to pay attention to the details the film includes. Guadagnino’s film is also grounded in the concrete details – things as small as clothing, books and decorations – which give insight into the characters’ personalities and bring readers into the world of 1980s Italy.
With striking shots of leaves in the wind, water dripping off bodies and characters eating messy foods like eggs and fruit, watching this film employs all senses. The film features three songs from indie artist Sufjan Stevens and classical piano pieces used to signal key moments.
“Call Me by Your Name” is a fascinating, wonderful movie suffused with details and focused on the type of love nearly all people seek. Catch it in theaters in Oxford at Malco Commons before the Oscars in March.