A review by Bianca Garner
“Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot.”
These words are profound and they sum up the power of love, it makes us weak in ways we never thought possible, but this same weakness can make an individual stronger. Call Me By Your Name addresses the complexities of a person falling in love with another. It peels back the norms of society and holds up a mirror to reveal the truth of love, that it is unpredictable and has ways of manifesting out of the blue. Romance can be a tangled mess that can make or break a person, and it’s universal as at some point or another we’ve fallen for someone that perhaps we shouldn’t have, or at least we’ve lusted after them.
Love and lust are often blurred in the realms of a relationship. In the rules of attraction we are first attracted to someone else by their appearance, their beauty and their youth, which starts as the foundations of many relationships. It is certainly the foundations for the relationship between seventeen year old Elio (Timothée Chalamet, who is wonderfully genuine) and American graduate (Armie Hammer). Their relationship throughout the film is an honest, true depiction of the complexities of relationship.
The film is set in the idyllic year of 1983 (before AIDS exploded and held back male sexuality revolution from evolving) and follows the arrival of Oliver, an American research assistant who is studying with art history with Elio’s father Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) at Perlman’s gorgeous villa in Northern Italy. At first Elio is undecided on his opinion of Oliver, who he agrees is good looking but openly mocks the way he uses the phase ‘Laters’. As the narrative unfolds, the two men become closer and their relationship blossoms. However, like with all tragic love stories, there is the prejudices of society at play which our star-crossed lover will need to overcome if they are to remain together.
The film caused a ‘moral panic’ style outrage on Twitter led by the slightly misinformed actor James Woods, who felt troubled by the age gap between the two characters in the film. Being seventeen is on the cusp of adulthood, and Elio is not presented as a victim of any abuse. Oliver is not presented as a malicious predator who grooms his teenage lover, and this is not a male version of Lolita. Both parties give consent and no one is forced or abused, this is not that kind of movie but rather one that shows the reality of two young adults trying to explore their sexuality and discover their identities.
Hammer gives a career best performance as effortless cool Oliver who oozes style and sophistication simply by being able to ride a bicycle with no hands. He dominates the screen with his charisma and charm, with his handsome classical Hollywood looks and attractive on screen and off screen persona. Although it is the tender and emotion provoking Chalamet who really shines here, with his graceful, intelligent and vulnerable performance truly capturing the essence of the transgression from young adolescence to adulthood. Although Chalamet has acted before, this is his first major leading role, I for one, will be carefully watching his career as the sky’s the limit. The supporting cast is brilliant too, especially Stuhlbarg who is witty and humble as Elio’s father and brings some real depth to what could have been an easily forgettable character.
One could easily dismiss Call Me by Your Name as 2017’s answer to Moonlight, however unlike Moonlight which seemed to be too safe in it’s depiction of anything sexual in nature, director Luca Guadagnino does not shy away from showing us a realistic depiction of a very human relationship. There is sex within a relationship of two adults, people are driven by lust and beauty, and sex does make up a huge part of any relationship. And unlike the depiction of sex in Stranger by the Lake, Call Me By Your Name is not overtly erotic or hardcore in it’s sex scenes. Guadagnino is interested in setting up the mood, in creating a romantic atmosphere and showing the needs of the two characters which go beyond just sex and lust, and show that they require companionship as well.
There is also another profound difference between Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name, the character of Elio is not a victim but he comes from a stable middle class background. One might argue that this a prime example of white privilege? However privileges aside, it shouldn’t distract you from enjoying the beauty and the visual delight of the film. And, it is a gorgeous film which deserves to be treated in admiration in the same way of a beautiful piece of fine art. The director and the cinematographer capture the natural beauty of the film’s location, with it’s endless sunshine and clear blue seas. It’s a film that leaves to yearning to take your own romantic vacation, to rediscover who you truly are.
Call Me By Your Name deserves all of its praise. It’s a film that delivers a heartbreaking, realistic portrayal of a relationship. The film stays with you long after it’s finished, with its indie pop soundtrack combined with classical musical pieces. It was a film that left me in tears, and that’s a compliment. Most importantly, it’s a film which shows the bravery of a leading man like Hammer taking on a role which reflects a realistic gay/bisexual character, something which Hollywood needs to embrace more often. We, as a society have moved past the prejudices and taboos of homosexuality, so it’s about time Hollywood did too.