Luca Guadagnino / Brazil, France, Italy, USA / 2017 / 132 mins
Released at the Filmhouse cinema from Fri 27 Oct 2017
Luca Guadagnino directs this adaptation of Andre Aciman’s beautiful novel of the same name, taking Hollywood star Armie Hammer and planting him in the middle of a European indie film. And like almost every piece of this film, it fits perfectly. In fact, the notion of Hammer as an American heartthrob is apt. He plays Oliver, a doctorate student who travels to Italy for six weeks in the summer to work with Mr. Perlman, a historian and academic. There, he meets Elio, Perlman’s seventeen year-old son, and their tentative relationship forms piece by piece.
The film’s sunlit colour palette and long takes recreate the warm feel of a languid summer abroad. The music also contributes to the nostalgic atmosphere; a jaunty piano piece opens the film and throughout its duration, Elio’s Bach renditions on the family Bösendorfer reflect his varying states of mind from gentle introversion to naïve passion.
What draws us in most, though, is Oliver and Elio’s growing bond. Timothée Chalamet (Elio) and Hammer sensitively portray the tender, intimate and unusual relationship between the characters. Even when there are no obvious signals to other characters around them, a simple touch of a finger or look across are a garden table are enough to illuminate their attraction. And when the connection ultimately reaches its climax, the characters’ scenes are sensual and realistic, never forced or gratuitous.
The film is also accomplished in its use of metaphor. Mr. Perlman’s expertise in ancient Rome, Greece and archaeology cleverly reflects his son’s excavation of his own self. A scene involving the recovery of an ancient statue found in a shipwreck is also particularly symbolic: a naked figure emerging from the water – another pertinent motif – is touched and marvelled at by Oliver.
Having said that, there are moments when the growth of the central relationship might prove frustrating. Oliver’s dialogue can be obtuse and although this mirrors his uncertainty about his own identity and sexuality, it may feel difficult to penetrate. There is also an odd lack of clarity at times concerning Elio’s parents and their understanding of their son. What do they know or not know? Are they encouraging him or ignoring him?
Nevertheless, these are minor concerns. Call Me By Your Name is a touching and honest film that embraces us smoothly in tandem with its characters’ blossoming emotions. Despite any cavalier marketing ploys, this is not really a “romance film” or a love story. Instead, it is a story about the discovery of what love might be and how the journey to the self can sometimes be found through someone else.