Sunday, 5 November 2017

Film Review: The emotionally overwhelming Call Me By Your Name will stick with you long after the credits end


When I first saw Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name back at the London Film Festival in early October, it didn't really wow me. I was impressed by its performances and its screenplay, but Guadagnino's direction of the story irked me. He holds the camera in long shot for almost all of the film's first half, as if trying to invoke in us the feeling of gazing at a painting in an art gallery. While the cinematography is visually appealing in its own right, for me it clashed with the deeply intimate performances both Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer give throughout the film. I thought Guadagnino managed to set this right in his final act - which I adored on first viewing - but the film in its entirety didn't exactly blow me away.

But then something happened. Call Me By Your Name stuck with me, and I mean really stuck with me. It wasn't my favourite film of the festival, and nor was it my least favourite - it floated around in the middle of the table, arguably the least memorable place to be. And yet, it was the film I couldn't get out of my head, the film that burrowed its way deep into my mind and refused to leave. Despite my predominant indifference towards Call Me By Your Name, a desire to see it again simply grew and grew in me until its official release last week. So I went to see it again, and the second viewing made me fully realise: Call Me By Your Name is a stunningly brilliant film.

Perhaps it is telling that it took two viewings for me to fully appreciate Guadagnino's work here, but I'm glad I finally do. This film overflows in detail, and it relishes in the smaller moments of a budding relationship. Elio and Oliver aren't allowed to simply fall into each other's arms the moment they realise their longing for something more, and so the film has to train us to pick up on each smaller detail. It's no coincidence that both characters spend a large portion of the film shirtless, every skin to skin contact registers like a thunderclap in how subtly yet vitally the film plays their physicality with each other. It doesn't matter if Oliver is giving Elio a confusingly seductive massage or if Elio simply nudges Oliver with his elbow, everything lands on the same wavelength.

It could easily be argued that Call Me By Your Name is slow, but I'd come to the film's defence by saying its pacing is necessary. A botched romance is one of the most uncomfortable things to watch in a film, and so writer James Ivory takes his time in building Elio and Oliver up to their pivotal moment. There is maybe still a slight disconnect between style and substance here - as much as the incessant long shots look nice, you kind of long for a close up every now and then - but the film's pace works to draw you in to its world.

We're watching a film set in the North of Italy, a sun-kissed, colour-drained town with vivid trees and fields surrounding it. Nothing about the film's setting is showy, in fact the Italian landscape's visual quietness could well be a key factor in Elio and Oliver's connection. Call Me By Your Name allows the mood of its setting to flourish in its script, the two are working side by side to create an environment that exists both on paper and on screen. A long take in a city square that follows Elio and Oliver walking either side of a commemorative statue as they first talk about their feelings for each other demonstrates this beautifully.

While Guadagnino's work here is impressive, it's Chalamet and Hammer that deal the biggest blows. Hammer's performance is a tough one to describe in that it feels like watching an actor play an actor. Oliver is portrayed as a man's man, he's good at sports and flirts with girls and meets up with other local guys to play cards, but Hammer deftly lets this side of Oliver appear as some form of illusion that remains unanswered. Is this really him, or is this who he's trying to be on surface level to disguise his deeper self? The film might not outright tell us, but Hammer handles the ambiguity nicely.

Chalamet is given the more emotional material to play with - again, Hammer is forced to remain bound by more stereotypical manliness in that he doesn't show as much emotion - and he gives one of the best performances of the year. The way he develops Elio's feelings towards Oliver is brilliantly subtle, all building towards a final act that sees his world lit up like a firework before crashing back down to the ground in a smouldering mess. Call Me By Your Name's finale is an overwhelmingly emotional piece of film making - if you dare get up and leave the cinema while the credits are rolling, I will hunt you down - and Chalamet has grown to understand his character beautifully. These are the tears of a boy whose first love has come and gone, a feeling he'll never recapture no matter how hard he tries.

It's Chalamet's performance that stuck in my mind the most, I think. Never flashy but rarely secretive, he strikes the perfect tone in every last moment - just watch the range of emotions he demonstrates in the film's stunning final five minutes. It's a uniformly great cast (with Michael Stuhlbarg on hand as Elio's father in what could become an Oscar winning supporting role) but Chalamet is the heartbreaking star of the show. Call Me By Your Name certainly isn't a conventional film by any means, but it's one that deserves your time and attention. Whether you fall in love on first viewing like many have, or whether it takes you a bit longer to crack like myself, this is stunningly emotional film making with real power behind its words and genuine heartache in its performances. It may not be the year's absolute best, but it could be the one you remember the most.


In A Sentence

With a powerful story rooted in something heartrendingly honest, Call Me By Your Name is deeply emotional film making bolstered by pair of unforgettable performances from Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet.

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