Oscar Watch: Call Me By Your Name
Views 32 | Time to read: 4 minutes | Uploaded: 2 - 13 - 2018 | By: Olivia Stowell
“Somewhere in Northern Italy.” So begins Luca Guadagnino’s lush LGBTQ+ coming-of-age romance Call Me By Your Name. Set in 1983, the film charts the sexual awakening of Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), an introverted, intellectual 17-year-old summering in Italy with his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), a laid-back American graduate student studying archaeology with Elio’s father. Deeply sensual and sensitive, Call Me By Your Name is an emotional and aesthetic triumph, brimming with nuanced performances, luxuriant visuals, and an atmospheric soundtrack, score, and sound design.
Chalamet’s performance is a revelation, capturing Elio in all of his mature intelligence and adolescent awkwardness. Oscillating effortlessly between French, English, and Italian, Chalamet (who became the youngest Best Actor nominee since 1940 for his performance in the film) portrays Elio with such verisimilitude and empathy that it will be hard for any audience member not to relate to him and all of the ups and downs that come with being in love for the first time.
For his part, Hammer matches Chalamet well as Elio’s love interest, Oliver, fleshing out a character that could easily have become a cipher. Hammer plays Oliver with a kind of all-American joie de vivre and ebullience, and he and Chalamet build up such a palpable chemistry that the film crackles with livewire energy in every scene they share. The supporting cast rounds out the film well, particularly Esther Garrel with a tender performance as Elio’s friend/lover Marzia and Stuhlbarg as Dr. Perlman, delivering one of the most stunning monologues of year towards the film’s end.
In many ways, Call Me By Your Name defies conventions of narrative and editing. There is no clear antagonist (other than the passage of time), and Guadagnino sometimes seems to cut away from conversations and scenes before they end. The film’s pace is slow and relaxed without being lethargic, and the dialogue often relies on subtext and implication. There’s a sense of lived life in the film’s editing and screenwriting; it’s full of conversations that are about everything and nothing, miscommunications and misunderstandings, music, and moments that end too quickly or last unbearably long. Visually, Call Me By Your Name is stunning, with nearly every frame looking like a painting, and repeating images--from ancient Greek statues to soft-boiled eggs to sheet music to peaches--give the film a sense of poetic rhythm.
This rhythm echoes into the sound design. Classical music scores most of the film, with the exception of two original songs by singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, and the sound editing emphasizes every small sound, creating a world full of sonic texture. Stevens’s dreamy and melancholy songs perfectly punctuate some of the film’s most emotional moments, and it’s no wonder that his “Mystery of Love” has scooped up an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
Some concern has arisen around the age gap between Elio and Oliver in the film, something exacerbated by the fact that Hammer is 31 while his character is supposed to be 24. Although the age gap between the central pairing certainly merits an examination and discussion, their relationship is very clearly presented as both consensual and mutual, and this fact, along with the cultural complexity of different understandings of adolescence/adulthood in another country and time period, allay some of the concerns.
Though some viewers may find the film overlong or too slow-moving, Call Me By Your Name’s complexity and care with which it treats its characters and subject matter make for a film worth seeing and worth thinking and talking about. It truly steals the viewers away to “somewhere in Northern Italy” in a poignant and beautiful exploration of coming-of-age, first love, and self-discovery.