“It’s been a long, long time/ Since I’ve memorized your face/ It’s been four hours now/ Since I’ve wandered through your place/ And when I sleep on your couch/ I feel very safe/ And when you bring the blankets/ I cover up my face … And words are futile devices”
(“Futile Devices” by Sufjan Stevens, from the “Call Me by Your Name” soundtrack)
It’s hard to encounter a movie that offers me both of the things I desire. Usually, it is either a delicate structure of aesthetics that I can only recall in fragments, or a whirlpool of feelings that retire to my memories as nothing but a blur – but “Call Me by Your Name” stays, with beauty but no affectation, with emotions but no angst.
Sunday morning, I curl up under my blankets and listen to “Visions of Gideon” from the soundtrack, and with each chord, I replay moments from the movie. I have to be very cautious with them, not allowing myself to unearth too many of them all at once. For minutes, I think about Elio transcribing music, then him sitting under the trees, then him and Oliver standing on the balcony ….
I think of “Call Me by Your Name” as a music box – so beautifully crafted that you can trace every detail, but the song inside is free-flowing. It is a work of ingenious direction, cinematography and acting, but it is also a story that unfolds itself petal by petal and then all at once.
“Call Me by Your Name” is directed by Luca Guadagnino, based on the book by André Aciman, and stars Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. It tells the love story of Elio, the 17-year-old son of a cultured and loving family on vacation in northern Italy, and Oliver, a young American scholar staying with them for the summer. During the six weeks, Elio makes up his mind about whether it is better “to speak or die.” The love between Elio and Oliver seizes them in a summer so alive that it becomes impossible to forget.
People are labeling the movie in every way possible, both good and bad: queer romance, sexual awakening, coming-of-age, nostalgia, empty artifice, intellectualism. One might say it simply hit on all the elements that equate popularity in 2017: retromania, LGBTQ+ representation, artful cinematography, but it would be wrong to reduce the film to merely that. For me, “Call Me by Your Name” evokes a state of being.
As I watched the movie, the story almost made me feel emotions more strongly than I had in a long time. A love story is truly successful when it provokes more than romantic thoughts. Throughout “Call Me by Your Name,” one is reminded of family, of friendship, and a general sense of awe about the finity of life and its consequent beauty. It makes one think about what we can love fiercely and lose. Therefore, it is crazy that such raw beauty was made possible by wonderfully deliberated direction choices, thoughtful acting and a masterful employment of the technical aspects.
The entire cast delivers a performance that feels spontaneous. They move through the story as if it is a universe that has always existed – the lush Italian countryside, Mafalda ringing the dinner bell, Elio kissing his mother’s cheek. That sense of familiarity provides a perfect backdrop for Elio and Oliver’s romance. Suddenly, we see how Elio is hyper-aware of his body, his words and his actions because of Oliver. Oliver, as the newcomer in the plot, is presented to us through Elio’s eyes – confidant, charming, and vulnerable. But meanwhile, the audience is able to see beyond Elio and Oliver’s perception of each other, and into the characters’ psyche. Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer make every interaction full of tension and beauty. Their stages of pining, bliss, playful tenderness and the final pain are all so vivid. As in the book, the dynamics between the two characters shifts in every scene, but there is a constant connection throughout.
As the director, Luca Guadagnino is the one who winds the music box and works the magic. This is one of those fine pieces where the director’s decisions can be felt throughout. His presence can be seen in the cinematography, the music, as well as the portrayal of each character. As said in a review by The Atlantic, Guadagnino sees his actors’ bodies as more than aesthetic objects. In fact, he sees everything as more than aesthetic objects – from sex to the languid beauty of an Italian town – and that is what gives every element in the movie a purpose.
The best parts of the movie are the moments when the characters are just resting – Elio writing in his dairy, or lying in bed, Oliver in his room thinking, and (toward the end of the movie) Oliver watching Elio sleep and the sadness that suddenly takes over his face. These, together with the artistically arranged set, show the close and affectionate attention Guadagnino pays to details.
The music, including two original songs written by Sufjan Stevens, is also perfect.
In his essay “Pensione Eolo,” André Aciman writes, “Ultimately, the real site of nostalgia is not the place that was lost or the place that was never quite had in the first place; it is the text that must record that loss.”
It is hard to adapt a text as rich and tender as “Call Me by Your Name” to the screen, but the film went above and beyond my expectations. Like the book, it is nostalgia told in a painfully present narrative. There are moments that sear into the audience’s minds, and I truly think that like the beautiful story between Elio and Oliver, this movie is something “divinely ours” and “given only once.”
Luca Guadagnino has built a nest for Aciman’s narrative, and now, it will be a place where many can find comfort and refuge. It is a story so vulnerable and delicate that it stands stronger and braver than many. Than all of us.
This movie is rated R.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.