Every year, there is at least one film that changes the way I look at film, or exposes me to a cinematic language that I’ve never seen before. Last year, Moonlight and The Handmaiden had this effect on me, and ended up topping my list of the year’s best films. This year, Call Me By Your Name is not only that film, but is also perhaps the best film I’ve seen this decade.
When we think about the foundation of cinema, two words come to mind – sight and sound. Film is so often limited to these two senses, no matter how many 3D or 70mm formats we throw into the title. Luca Guadagnino is known for making films that attack all the senses – sight, sound, taste, feel and smell. His films are so intricate and layered, that the audience doesn’t even need a point-of-view shot to feel completely immersed into the setting. I can remember watching I Am Love for the first time and being in complete awe of this effect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poe71BtB9Mk
Call Me By Your Name follows Elio (played by the brilliant Timothy Chalamet), a seventeen year old boy who spends his summer vacations with his academic family in rural Northern Italy. He reads novels, transcribes classical music and rides his bicycle around the town. Every summer, a college student will come to visit Elio’s father and will complete their doctorate. Usually, these individuals are quite forgettable and go by without any drama – that is, until Armie Hammer’s OIiver comes to visit. Oliver is in his twenties, and beams with confidence and self-assurance – a stark contrast to Elio, who is still coming of age, and lacks a concrete understanding of his identity. The two do not hit it off immediately, and seemingly try to ‘one up’ each other, whether that is at a volleyball match, by the grand piano or when discussing Italian history. From what begins as boyish rivalry, blossoms into a potent romance, in one of the most honest depictions of first-love that I’ve seen put to film.
What I really admire about André Aciman’s story (which I am currently reading), is that the two protagonists love has no limitations or opposition. In most romantic films – particularly when following LGBTQ+ characters – the love is forbidden, or one of the characters is plagued with some sort of brutal past. In Call Me By Your Name, Elio and Oliver are free to love one another and in fact, it is encouraged by other characters in the film. Their only limitation is time, as Oliver must leave when the summer ends.
From a filmmaking standpoint, this film is beyond masterful. As expected from a Guadagnino film, the editing and cinematography are sublime and work together effortlessly. Every single shot is stunningly beautiful and layered with delicate camera movement. These gorgeous images leap off the textured 35mm film the film was shot on and have stayed in my mind for long afterwards. Personally, my favourite shot involved the movement of the two characters’ feet, bathed in moonlight. Another shot that has been widely discussed is the film’s finale, which is devastating and raw – which left me and my fellow audience members sitting through the closing credits in silence.
One of the film’s strongest elements is the music. My favourite folk artist, Sufjan Stevens composed three original songs for this film (one of them being an ambient remix of an older song of his), which are perfect for matching the film’s aesthetic, and are all equally heartbreaking. The soundtrack also features work by my favourite composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well as Italian dance hits from the 80s. The music is integral to the execution of this film and I’ve listened to it on repeat since. On the topic of sound, the sound design in this film often borders on ASMR – the chorus of crickets and cicadas during the night scenes created a really powerful, almost numbing effect.
It is so rare that a film creates such a level of immersion. Despite creating and analysing film for years, I literally have no idea how Guadagnino achieves this sensuality and tangibility. I felt enveloped in the warm sun that shines through the peach trees and I could feel the crisp, icy water around my ankles when the characters stood by the beach. Egg yolks run like lava, and the fruit glistens like jewellery. The scenes taking place at during meal times stand on their own as ‘food-porn’.
If we look back through cinematic history, it was the epics – the Ben Hurs – that won Best Picture and became classics. These days, the epic, blockbusters are the films that end up being forgotten, while independent cinema has blossomed to mass acclaim. I have so much admiration for this new wave of directors whose films still succeed among mainstream audiences, even in the very uniform filmic landscape that hollywood creates today. Coming up to awards season, I predict that this film will deservedly win Best Picture, and I really hope that it will pick up nominations for both lead cast members, Guadagnino’s direction and James Ivory’s poetic screenplay.
I fell in love with this film during the opening credits and I cannot praise it enough. This is timeless, brave and superb filmmaking, that has left me completely obsessed ever since. I can see this becoming a classic in the future and I would recommend it to everyone I know. This Boxing Day, take your family, your friends and everyone you love to see Call Me By Your Name and let yourself be immersed. I know I am.
Review by Nick Ward (16)