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“Call Me By Your Name,” Luca Guadagnino’s newest coming of age drama, set in a picturesque small town in Northern Italy, is as cinematically satisfying as it is emotionally affecting. A poignant adaptation of Andr Aciman’s 2007 novel, “Call Me By Your Name” traverses an array of psychological displays of infatuation, lust, love and heartbreak while leaving audiences with a depth of emotions to ponder long after the credits roll.
It’s the summer of 1983, and 17 year old Elio Perlman (Timothe Chalamet) vacations in his family’s old Italian villa, transcribing and performing classical pieces on the piano. Enter Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 20 something doctoral student conducting research with Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of Greco Roman culture. After Oliver moves into the Perlman villa for the summer, Elio finds himself increasingly attracted to the charming, charismatic older scholar; he begins to fantasize over their budding romantic relationship.
The power of “Call Me By Your Name” lies in its ability to transport and transform its audience both emotionally and intellectually. Its methodology arises from its treatment of the dynamic between Elio and Oliver. Guadagnino largely focuses on the tension that exists between the pair not due to the social limitations faced by same sex couples or the pressures of remaining secretive, but because of the short run nature of their relationship. Elio and Oliver have only a summer to experience a lifetime’s worth of romance. From Elio’s perspective, his first real love is one that he knows will never truly amount to anything more than an affair. His internal conflict doesn’t stem from social stigma, but from a fear of losing the man in whom he becomes increasingly emotionally invested as the summer months pass.
Guadagnino captures the sexual tension between Elio and Oliver in each and every frame, as their romance gradually builds from a few casual interactions to a passionate connection. From a scene in which Oliver boldly approaches Elio during a game of volleyball, to Elio’s gentle gaze towards Oliver during a neighborhood dance party, we witness the development of a romantic connection simply through quiet, nuanced expressions of desire.
This psychological connection is effectively demonstrated by the leads, whose on screen chemistry is undeniably the film’s most memorable quality. Hammer earnestly and powerfully conveys Oliver’s confidence, sensibility and maturity in his interactions with Elio’s parents and the other townspeople, while simultaneously expressing his unleashed spontaneity and playfulness when with Elio. But at the heart of “Call Me By Your Name” is the complex central performance by Chalamet. The arts are integral to the setting of the film, reflected through Elio’s own musical obsession and the archaeological studies of Oliver and Elio’s father. Guadagnino emphasizes the aesthetic qualities of these elements through a gentle, pastel color palette that consistently draws in viewers and maintains a symbolic, dreamlike atmosphere.
This atmosphere is further emphasized by the film’s pitch perfect soundtrack, which incorporates 1980s European pop songs with classical, sweeping piano pieces, featuring original tracks by indie rock artist Sufjan Stevens. From the light and airy “Mystery of Love” that accompanies Elio and Oliver’s escapades to the devastating “Visions of Gideon” that supplements the film’s finale, the music of “Call Me By Your Name” elevates it to an emotionally impactful, sensory experience.
“Call Me By Your Name” is an unforgettable ode to first love. It’s a masterpiece of performance and aesthetics that will stay with audiences long after they’ve left the theater, undoubtedly rendering it one of the best films of the year.