REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Theatrical Release Poster – Sony Pictures Classics

The following is a review of Call Me By Your Name — Directed by Luca Guadagnino.

A film as a work of art is a an attempt. It is a risk, but it is a risk that you need to take. Actress and filmmaker Jodie Foster recently said that, for her, filmmaking was about figuring out your place in the world, or, simply, about evolving as a person. In reference to this film, one might say that becoming a filmmaker is choosing to speak.

It is about pouring your heart out onto the screen in an effort to make your voice heard. The death of cinema and the popularity of empty calories in the form of ‘pointless’ blockbusters is something great artists often talk about. Italian film director Luca Guadagnino has with Call Me By Your Name released a work of art that proves that cinema is still very much a living and breathing thing. Call Me By Your Name is a gorgeous masterpiece.

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that such a statement may seem hyperbolic. No, Call Me By Your Name has not saved cinema, but it is a film that I consider to be timeless, which depicts a love — a fling — that transcends cinema and gender. Call Me By Your Name is a deeply moving piece of art that manages to make you fall in love with the love shown on screen. Call Me By Your Name — one of the best movies of the year —  is a cinematic achievement that left me flabbergasted as the screen went to black and crying theatergoers exited the movie theater.

Let me by honest with you. I did not have high expectations for this movie. Sure, I had heard about how good it was, but I had honestly gotten sick and tired of hearing people talk about this movie over and over again. This often happens for me with movies that Europe has to wait months to see, when Americans had already seen it and discussed it at length. But when the movie was over, everything clicked. Every tidbit I had heard about the film suddenly made sense. I loved Call Me By Your Name.

“Later,” thusly the transformative summer love story of Oliver and Elio started in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name — based on André Aciman’s book of the same title — with an oft-used parting phrase that once seemed to annoy the main character. It is a coming-of-age romance film about a summer of passion and discovery in 1983, wherein Elio (played by Timothée Chalamet), a precocious and stuck-up young man, falls madly and deeply in love with Oliver (played by Armie Hammer), an American graduate student that Elio’s father (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) has invited to Northern Italy for the summer.

At the center of this film are two performances that I think deserve to be paid attention to, and at the tail-end of the film a third monumental performances arises out of a character that, up to that point, had been little more than a plot device — the character who brought the two main characters together. Actually, let’s start by discussing that character — the aforementioned monumental performance delivered by Michael Stuhlbarg.

Stuhlbarg plays a professor who, in one of his first scenes, tricks Oliver to test his knowledge. This is a learned man, but also someone one might expect to be closed-off and unprepared to handle the relationship that Oliver and Elio are enjoying that summer. But in a big scene towards the end of the film, he reveals himself to be wise in life and love. It is a scene that reveals and emphasizes the maturity with which Guadagnino tells this story. The scene punctuates a certain sense of acceptance and guidance, and Stuhlbarg masterfully delivers a rich monologue that is needed for this picture to become the masterpiece that it is.

And then there are the two lovers, Elio and Oliver. Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer both deliver sublime performances, and it is the best work I’ve ever seen from Armie Hammer. Chalamet is more of an unknown, and this is his breakout role. And what a way to make a name for himself. Chalamet plays the moody but curious and courageous Elio with such a genuine and raw youthfulness that harmonized with the film as a whole. He is outstanding.

Elio’s feelings are encapsulated by two powerful and dream-like songs from Sufjan Stevens — “Visions of Gideon” and “Mystery of Love.” These dreamy songs stay with you, and “Visions of Gideon” — the hauntingly beautiful song that plays during the final credits — is truly phenomenal.

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert once wrote that good films can even make you into a better person. Maybe I am naïve here, but I genuinely believe a movie like Call Me By Your Name has that power. There is something so natural and warm and nice about this movie. It is a mature and deeply moving masterpiece.

10 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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