Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Review | Call Me By Your Name | 2017


There was a moment in Call Me By Your Name when I realized my heart was full and I was deliriously in love with the rapturous magic of cinema. Such is the power of Luca Guadagnino's magnificent new film, which explores the mysteries, the ecstasies, and the heartbreak of first love through the eyes of a teenage son of an American professor and an Italian woman living in Italy.

The moment comes about two thirds of the way through the film, as young Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the handsome of grad student currently living with his family, frolic in front of a waterfall accompanied by Sufjan Stevens' haunting new song, "Mystery of Love." There's just something so tender, so beautiful, and so carefree about that scene that I found myself completely transported, lost in a moment so sublime that it almost seemed to radiate across the boundaries of the screen.

Up to that point, we've watched Elio and Oliver go from begrudging acquaintances (Elio is annoyed that he has to give up his room for their new guest) to hesitant friends, to full blown lovers, as Elio navigates the first pangs of young love. Oliver, on the other hand, is more hesitant. As the film takes place in the 1980s, his feelings for Elio are more taboo, and he holds back out of respect for Elio and his relationship with his family. That the two will eventually become lovers is never in question, what makes the film so engaging is how the two leads navigate their characters' emotions. Chalamet is absolutely extraordinary as Elio, exuding a languid, un-self conscious sensuality that is at once confident and vulnerable. It's a magnetic performance; honest, playful, and lived-in, the crowning achievement of an incredible year for the young actor (he also appears in Lady Bird and Hostiles).

Hammer is more aloof but no less effective as Oliver, a more mature and self-aware man who understands his place in Elio's life, even if the sometimes starry-eyed Elio himself can't quite grasp it. That's what makes the film so heartbreaking - both the characters know this can't possibly work. Both have separate lives in countries on opposite sides of the world, but what they feel is so deep and so powerful that they can't possibly deny it. They are both matched by Michael Stuhlbarg's beautifully understated performance as Elio's father, who shares a most tender and poignant scene with Chalamet near the film's end that is almost a small, self-contained masterpiece of writing and acting all its own.

“Is it better to speak, or to die?" asks a character in a German folk tale read aloud by Elio's mother (Amira Casar). It's the central question of Call Me By Your Name, recalling Tennyson's old adage that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Is it better to hide one's feelings, knowing it will save heartbreak in the long run, or to speak up and embark on a journey that one knows will only lead to loss? That, as Sufjan Stevens softly croons, is the mystery of love. Luca Guadagnino has crafted a love story for the ages, a singularly breathtaking work of art that recalls the work of Bergman (Summer Interlude hangs heavy here), Bertolucci, and Visconti. I can't remember the last time I found a film so wholly enrapturing. There is a haunting and piercing timelessness in the way it captures those fleeting moments of fiery, moon-eyed passion that come with it.

Speaking of Luis Buñuel at a dinner party in the film, a family guest says that "cinema is a mirror of reality and it’s a filter." Call Me By Your Name is absolutely both. As both an embodiment of the emotions of young love and an idealization of its innocence and beauty, it is a film that feels somehow recognizable and yet larger than life, as if some loves are too good and pure for this world. I try not to throw around the word "masterpiece" too often, but some films defy any other descriptor. Call Me By Your Name is a masterpiece; a wise, wonderful, and perfectly crafted romance that lingers and enchants, standing tall as one of the finest cinematic achievements in recent memory.

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME | Directed by Luca Guadagnino | Stars  Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel | Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language | Now playing in select cities.

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