A sophisticated and compelling depiction of first love filled with awards-worthy performances, Call Me by Your Name is Luca Guadagnino’s best work to date.
Best known for his work on 2015’s star-studded A Bigger Splash, Luca Guadagnino has already established his position as a talented figure in the world of filmmaking but has simultaneously struggled thus far to produce a piece of work that all audiences can agree on. Almost 10 years in the making and based on the novel by Andre Aciman, Call Me by Your Name could finally be Guadagnino’s defining film, this powerful and tender exploration of first-love providing what is easily Guadagnino’s most engaging work to date.
Under the backdrop of idyllic Northern Italy in the 1980s, Call Me by Your Name tells the story of one summer in the life of teenager Elio (Timothée Chalamet). As he drifts through the summer he develops an incredibly passionate yet equally as tender relationship with Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American student being hosted for the summer by his parents who are superbly acted by Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg. This relationship is the means by which Elio begins to understand himself, his desires, and his sexuality, whilst providing a remarkable set of memories and experiences that will define him as a man in the years to come. Some viewers might find the pacing of this coming-of-age journey a little too slow, but the way that the plot drifts along with such a steady ease makes Elio’s journey feel as humane as it possibly can, none of us have ever been able to understand ourselves overnight so why should it be any different in a film?
On both sides of this compelling love story are two actors at their very best, the roles played by both men providing a stark contrast to their previous work but allowing them to deliver some of their best performances to date. Chalamet in particular delivers a startlingly sophisticated performance, he fills the character of Elio with an irresistible boyish charm but also adds a raw vulnerability to the role, his maturity shining through in the way he portrays Elio as someone desperate to take the growing-up process in his stride despite how scary it may be. Armie Hammer brings a more understated but just as outstanding performance, blossoming in the same way that his character does as the narrative progresses. Although we warm to Elio more than we warm to Oliver, we understand exactly why Elio has fallen so hard for this older man, his initial arrogance developing into an irresistible charm and confidence. The ease at which Chalamet and Hammer create on-screen chemistry helps to make this relationship so convincing despite its unconventional age gap and we cannot help but root for the pair.
Guadagnino creates a world packed to the brim with romance, thought has gone into every inch of every frame with meaning and metaphor being found in even the most mundane of objects. The stunning cinematography helps to depict a world full of life; luscious landscape shots capture the beauty of this environment, showing that the there is no setting more perfect for a love story like this than the Italian summer. Just as much beauty can be found in the writing of the film as its visuals; James Ivory’s screenplay delivering some of the most heart-wrenching moments of dialogue in film this year. The monologue delivered by Stuhlbarg at the end of the film ramps up the emotional intensity to a level that makes it difficult to hold back the tears; Call Me by Your Name is a film worth taking tissues to for the final third alone.
It takes time to grow and is deliberately uncomfortable to watch at times, but Call Me by Your Name is the perfect blend of charm and devastation, carried throughout by highly refined performances. A unconventional yet utterly endearing romantic gem.
Call Me by Your Name (2017), directed by Luca Guadagnino, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures Releasing, Certificate 15.