NYFF55 Review: Call Me By Your Name

Stephan Cho - October 13, 2017

One of the most anticipated titles at the festival, Call Me By Your Name earns its reputation as a modern gay classic.

Elio (Timothée Chalamet) lives a charmed life, spending the summer with his academic parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) in their Italian villa. The 17 year-old’s aimless days are spent discussing philosophy and art with his parents and their many guests, exploring the idyllic landscape of the Italian countryside, and flirting with girls while he waits for the endless summer to pass.

However, Elio’s world is soon disrupted by the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome 24 year-old scholar who comes to work on his father’s manuscript for the summer, and who inspires in Elio nothing short of pure, obsessive attraction from the moment they first meet. Elio finds himself gradually falling deeper in love with Oliver over the course of the six short weeks they spend together, sometimes even unbeknownst to himself.

Call Me By Your Name captures the universal feeling of first love along with the unspoken desires that are more central to queer narratives. From the moment Oliver first grazes his hand over Elio’s naked shoulder, Elio’s conflicting feelings toward the handsome stranger are tied to sexual desires that are not yet perceptible to him. Falling in love is not a spontaneous process in Call Me By Your Name; every small glance or embrace between the two lovers is endlessly overexamined, negotiated, and evaded, and is tied to Elio’s burgeoning conception of his own teenage sexuality. Every element in Call Me By Your Name seems to work in sync to evoke the overwhelming sensation of first love.

Screenwriter James Ivory clues viewers into these quiet signals that mark this journey of sexual discovery. Ivory, who also adapted the E.M. Forster gay classic Maurice for the screen in 1987, carries over the careful perspective of the acclaimed 2007 André Aciman novel from which Call Me By Your Name is based. However, Call Me By Your Name retains the graphic sexuality that also made the original novel so memorable. The infamous “peach scene” is kept from the original novel, although the film adaptation mercifully skips the part about Elio wanting to bite into Oliver’s “apricock.”

Director Luca Guadagnino indulges viewers in the intoxicating beauty of the Italian countryside and his attractive leads, while exercising a welcome level of restraint in his usual filmmaking tricks when compared to his previous work—the 2010 film I Am Love and the 2015 film A Bigger Splash. Guadagnino leads viewers to see the world as the young Elio does, and to fall in love for the first time along with him.

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are also excellent as the film’s leads. Chalamet captures both Elio’s raw-nerve sexuality and his vulnerability in equal measures in a star-making performance, while Hammer proves to be a more emotionally affecting actor than his impossibly sculpted face would suggest. Michael Stuhlbarg also gets a strong showcase as Elio’s father in a scene that will rank among the most sensitive portrayals of coming out in recent memory.

Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, who is credited with the film’s soundtrack, also brings an additional layer of emotional impact to Call Me By Your Name. Director Luca Guadagnino described Stevens’ role a “narrator” for Call Me By Your Name during a press conference at the festival, and his compositions are an often inextricable element of Elio’s emotional journey in the film.

Stevens, whose work often operates in the same intimate emotional register and ambiguous sexuality found in the film, provides voice for Elio’s unspoken feelings in “Mystery of Love” and “Visions of Gideon,” his two original compositions for the film. For fans of Stevens’ music, his work on the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack will call to mind the sparse arrangements of the 2015 album Carrie & Lowell. “Visions of Gideon,” which soundtracks the film’s final scene, is particularly devastating alongside Chalamet’s showcase scene in the closing moments of the film.

Call Me By Your Name is an emotionally rewarding experience, and a welcome addition into the modern gay film canon.

Call Me By Your Name will open in limited release on November 24.

Stephan Cho

Stephan Cho is a senior and the editor-in-chief of The Moviegoer. His interests include pop culture criticism, creative writing, and music production.