By Jack Dignan
If, like me, you’ve been following the award season frontrunners throughout the year, or even just early word on the year’s best movies, chances are you’ve heard of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. It’s been making waves throughout the world ever since it’s premiere at Sundance earlier in the year, steadily gaining momentum and awards buzz ever since. And now, just in time for the New Year, it hits Australian audiences. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of fantastic things. It’s hard not to, and they’re all valid, but the simple fact of the matter is that Call Me By Your Name is one of the most flooring and delightful movies 2017 has to offer.
Based on the novel by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name takes us back to Northern Italy in the bright, shimmering summer of 1983. Mr. Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife Annella (Amira Casar) have hired a research assistant to come in and work with them over the course of a six-week period, and this assistant comes in the form of the charming Oliver (Armie Hammer). Elio (Timothée Chalamet), Perlman’s son, serves as our eyes and ears. He’s a young book-obsessed seventeen-year-old secretly exploring his sexuality, whether he knows that or not, and slowly falling for Oliver from afar.
It’s a subtle, profound way of storytelling that disregards the typical three-act structure and replaces it with a slow moving, earnest and sensual tale of love set to the backdrop of a gorgeous Italian town. The story moves in such a natural and free way, making it a sublime cinematic experience that takes its time in appreciating the beauty and hardships of life while progressing through the lives of Elio and Oliver. This isn’t a straightforward love story. It’s not boy meets boy, where the characters fall in love and face complications of their relationship all before a thrilling finale. It’s real and to the point, putting character first before anything else.
Appreciating a movie and enjoying one are two distinctly different things, but Call Me By Your Name blends the two seamlessly. There’s beauty not just in the way this film is made, but the way it tells its story. The film features very little conflict, yet it works as a poignant narrative of being who you want to be while you’re young, unashamed and fulfilled, not letting life go to waste subduing who you are. A scene towards the finale hits the messages home the deepest, and features a truly heartbreaking performance by the always-impressive (and ever present in all your favourite films) Michael Stuhlbarg.
Small portions of the narrative do get swept up in familiarities, especially throughout the first half and its many sequences of deliberately frustrating yet equally sweet romantic tension, but screenwriter James Ivory, writing for the first time since 2003, manages to use every plot beat effectively. They may be derivative every so often, but they’re all building towards the bigger picture. This is one of the smarter, more investing romances of recent years, one that’s impossible not to fall in love with and one that’s even more impossible not to feel heartbreak over.
Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet fill every frame they share with strong personality and fantastic chemistry. They own this movie. It’s their film through and through. Their personal narratives may move at a slow pace, but every scene shared grasps your attention in ways never done before. Like I said, it never goes straight into the romance and that’s a very effective move, for this isn’t a film necessarily just about the love, but also about what this love means for the people involved. For them, being gay at this point in their lives, it could have a lot of consequences, but restraint can only take them so far, and what unfolds can only be described as magical.
2017 tried to end the year off without releasing too many romance movies, The Big Sick being one of the year’s sole standouts, but Call Me By Your Name came around just in time to save the day, slotting in as one of the year’s best and most gorgeous films, aided by an original score and original songs that will fill your heart with love and instantaneously shatter them. I loved this movie. My best of the year list will be released mid to late January this year, but if bets were to be placed now, you’ll certainly be seeing this film on there.
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