Love, Humanity, & Dreamlike Beauty in Call Me By Your Name

Andrew Mello, Contributing Writer

Falcon Rating: 3.5/4

Storytelling in movies—good ones at least—is different from storytelling in any other form. In a movie, there are subtle ways to convey ideas and emotions. The audience doesn’t have to be explicitly told, they just know. Call Me By Your Name—the story of love shared between a 17-year-old Italian-American boy and the American almost a decade his senior—makes you forget you’re watching actors and believe you’re watching actual love blossoming.

Set during the summer of 1983 in a colorful corner of Italy, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) meets Oliver (Armie Hammer), the archaeology student Elio’s family is hosting. Initially, the movie is blanketed in a dreamlike beauty. The garden where Elio’s family grows fruit looks like it may as well be the garden of Eden, occupied by apricots and peaches.

The eye-candy environment adds to the wonderful story told and makes the emotions of the two lovers resonate even more with the audience. When the director decides to remove that beauty from certain scenes, it accentuates the feelings of being alone that cut Elio and Oliver so deeply.

Early on, we see small moments that really escalate the tension between the two characters. When Elio takes Oliver to a club in town, towards the beginning of his stay, Oliver starts dancing with a local woman, then kissing her. Between Oliver’s advances, we get cuts back to Elio’s face, clouded by smoke from his cigarette—but still visibly envious. When Oliver starts kissing the woman, Elio leans forward in his seat with a longing look in his eye.

From the first moments of the movie, teenage Elio is bored with what little he has to do in the Italian village where he spends the summer. He passes most of his time transcribing sheet music or flirting with girls. He’s an outward cynic. While with friends, he acts disinterested and sarcastic: the archetypal teenager. But, when he’s with Oliver, his disinterest goes away, his sarcasm becomes sincerity, and his smug looks turn kind.

Photo Courtesy of: Elena Ringo
Pictured: Stars Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet.

Oliver is also a very intelligent man, as he proves to Elio’s father with his knowledge of the etymology of the word “apricot.” He’s tall and handsome: the embodiment of the American male archetype. And while he enjoys his private moments with Elio, he seems almost ashamed of them. Despite what they share, Oliver never intended for Elio to become a permanent addition to his life. Much to both of their dismay, Oliver’s existence in Elio’s life is fleeting. His six-week tenure with Elio’s father is not much time, and the two wasted so much of it dancing around each other. The ticking clock adds another layer to the tense atmosphere throughout, and when the time eventually comes for goodbyes, Oliver feels guilt for departing and can’t manage to meet Elio’s eyes.

The director, Luca Guadagnino, has clear intent with how he wants the story to unravel-—and his vision plays out perfectly. All of the color and visual storytelling so evident throughout the film is his labor of love, and it clearly pays off. I found out after the fact that most of the outdoor light seen in the movie is artificial, but you couldn’t tell if you weren’t told that. There aren’t any moments when your attention is split across the whole frame; every shot has enough in it to matter but not too much as to take away from the story.

While Guadagnino deserves a lot of praise for his style, sometimes Call Me By Your Name is a bit too much of an art house movie. The absolute worst example of this is after the climax of the movie, when the camera hovers on a brick staircase for a couple seconds, killing the narrative momentum. There’s no reason for the camera to focus on a staircase, and similar fumbles are what hold Call Me By Your Name back from being a perfect movie.

The strongest moments of Call Me By Your Name are the ones of characters—mainly Elio and Oliver. It’s fitting, then, that the last shot of the film is a single, uninterrupted take of Elio’s face looking into the fireplace. The scene takes place directly after Elio learns a certain heartbreaking finality. As he looked into the fireplace, and then the camera, I was reminded of the ending to 2010’s Blue Valentine. At the end of Blue Valentine, the credits start to roll, but then stills of the two lovers come on-screen, accompanied by fireworks. This type of ending feels almost like a swan song. It’s a beautiful moment in both films, but I think I prefer it here. Elio looks into the fire, and a tear rolls down his cheek as he thinks about the pain he’s endured. But then, he chuckles, leading the audience to imagine which happy memory he’s recalling.

Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful story, elevated by fantastic direction and performances. And it’s because of the emotional—and very human—way this film works that it will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.

This piece also appears in our January print edition.