Call Me by Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino, was a film where I lavished in all the beautiful joy that it had to offer. Whether it was the serene, welcoming surroundings of northern Italy, the vibrantly interesting characters that filled every scene, or simply the pleasant, freeing atmosphere that coursed through the film – I was completely enveloped in everything this film was. This is one of those reviews that I’m excited to write, because I know it will bring me the same amount of enjoyment that watching the film did – it’s like experiencing it all over again.
Elio – played by Timothée Chalamet – and his parents, Annella – played by Amira Casar – and, Professor Perlman – played by Michael Stuhlbarg – welcome a graduate student, Oliver – played by Armie Hammer – to their home in northern Italy for the summer, where he will be Professor Perlman’s research assistant. However, Elio soon becomes quite enamoured with Oliver and soon his simple life is overtaken with obsessing over him. Though it is not forbidden, the two will not immediately fall for one another, which only serves to complicate their relationship.
This is a film that takes all the time it wants to fully indulge in exploring and developing its characters. As someone who usually prioritises the importance of characters over most other aspects, I was totally obsessed with this film, and with director, Luca Guadagnino previous work (‘A Bigger Splash’ for example), I knew I was in good hands when characters and their handling was concerned. Both Elio and Oliver (but also quite a few others of the supporting cast) became people who I wanted to learn more about; whose story I wanted to be a part of and follow along with – my connection and interest in them was almost instantaneous.
The pace will surely not be for everyone, but for me it was exactly what I wanted. The stakes aren’t massive world ending events, people aren’t in grave danger and in need of saving, there isn’t somewhere that everyone must be or else. The film moves slowly… comfortably. While the scenes have purpose, there isn’t anything demanding about them. This is people enjoying the beauty of Italy and enjoying the company of one another. And while they are enjoying all these things, we are enjoying getting to learn more about them; getting to become a part of their story, their surroundings and simply luxuriate in it all.
And then when it comes to those characters that we spend so much time with, it is a lovingly doled out experience. They never, ever come across as one-dimensional. They feel rich in history and begging to be explored – even minor side characters have little morsels of depth to them, and while may not learn anything extensive about them, but what we do get, is enough to build a clearer picture of the type of person they might be.
It is primarily, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) who are the film – they are what drive it. Their initially struggling friendship that will soon become more, isn’t easy going in the beginning. They are both opposites – who despite the saying, do not attract. Elio at first seems like quite a cocky kid who doesn’t fear to say how he feels and isn’t troubled by what others think of him. Oliver gives the impression of a polite, charming person, but if you get past that, you see there’s actually someone who can be a bit of a dick. I in no way mean this as an insult, when I say that Armie Hammer is quite good at playing a character who is charming and alluring, but who also gives of the odour of someone who is a bit of a tool. He finds the balance of playing Oliver perfectly and was a great choice for the role. Especially later in the film when his facades disappear, and we see the real, more caring Oliver.
Both these characters and actors play off of one another wonderfully. From a character standpoint, the two go on an honest feeling journey with each other. There isn’t an immediate liking between the two of them (or at least, it seems that way) the film doesn’t just jump into the two of them being in love and then that being the sole focus of the film. No, instead it takes the time to build the two characters separately. We learn of who Elio is, what guides his day, who he spends time with etc. And we also learn of who Oliver is, but mainly from the perspective of Elio, who is slowly falling for him.
It’s much more effective that the two characters are first introduced and developed as individuals. We learn who they are as people, before we then begin to explore who they are when they are together. It’s a journey… a journey that takes time, won’t be easy (because it would be boring if it were easy) but in the end, will hopefully be worth all the pain and time spent chasing.
And around them are some wonderful supporting characters. The two that stood out, where Elio’s parents. They seem like the loveliest, most welcoming people, who are also passionate and excited about their work and their family. They always give off a feeling of comfort and security and you know they are always there for Elio to fall back on when he needs them. And I want to take the chance to praise, Michael Stuhlbarg (Elio’s father): He’s an actor who I see in many films and even some TV shows – primarily in a supporting role – and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him put in a bad performance. He is one of those dependable actors who shows up, becomes the character and fully delivers on exactly who he needs to be. There is a particular moment from this film that jumps to mind: where he delivers a monologue nearer the end of the film that is truly engrossing and wholly heart breaking, and it had every ounce of my attention. A class act in acting for sure.
But beyond Mr Stuhlbarg and his always exemplary work, you have two characters who don’t feel relegated to the background and who play an integral but small part in the grander film, and in particular play a part in the next point I want to talk about.
The film thankfully doesn’t insert a plot point that would have only created unnecessary conflict and a divide between characters who were better served when together. That plot point being pushback from Elio’s parents or neighbours, concerning his and Oliver’s relationship. There is no heavy-handed sub-plot where the parents forbid the twos growing attraction for one another. There isn’t a scene where Elio exclaims to his parents that he loves him and they’re going to be together, and then his mother strikes him and it’s all very dramatic and over the top. That’s not this film. Again, it thankfully does not do that. Not only would it be counterintuitive to the characters that had been established up until that point (Elio’s parents I mean), but it also would have distracted from what the film is all about – and over the top dramatics is not it.
This film is about… love. But not simply the love between two people. It’s about the love that exists for all the things in our lives. The love of your family, the love of your work, the love of the city that surrounds you – which I have to take the opportunity to mention: Italy in this film is just the most beautiful, welcoming looking place ever. Almost like a place taken from your most magical dreams. Frame after frame, scene after scene, this film was just a constant, unstoppably pleasant experience to be a part of. I think I was forever smiling while watching it.
I doubt it comes as a surprise, when I say that I fully and wholeheartedly recommend, Call Me by Your Name! Beautiful in every sense of the word. Please make the time to go enjoy this film, it’s a wonderful little gem.
I would love to know what you thought of both the film and my review, so leave any opinions or feedback in the comments section down below. I’d also appreciate it if you would give both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – a wee follow each. But I’ll stop rambling now and close out this review by thinking you for your time and wishing you a wonderful day!