CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)
DIR.: LUCA GUADAGNINO
It's a shame that films have come out in recent years that have been judged almost singularly as a political message or as a progressive statement, without the traditional meritocracy of filmmaking placed in mind. Some celebrities and politicians have come out against Call Me By Your Name, the newest film from Luca Guadagnino, as it depicts a homosexual relationship between a mid-20s guy and a 17 year old boy in early '80s Italy. The basic gist of these complaints lies in the fact that they believe the film to glorify pedophilia and molestation, when of course that is not the case. This film is a discreet and complicated affair, and it treats its narrative complications with intimate care...not sensationalism. Call Me by Your Name is probably the best queer romance film of 2017 by a country mile, and it provides a solid followup to the legacy of queer cinema that films like Brokeback Mountain, Weekend and Moonlight have helped solidify. Like those other films mentioned, you don't have to be gay to enjoy the film, and anyone can appreciate the performances, narrative and composition on display.
Elio is a 17 year old native Italian boy whose father is a linguistics professor, and a young mid-20s academic named Oliver comes to study abroad over the summer. While their relationship begins as a rivalry, they quickly find a liking to one another, and amid Elio's awkward teenage developments and Oliver's masculine bravado, their differences give way to attraction. The film is based on a novel, which I haven't read, but Guadagnino's film feels full of texture and fully realized maturity. So many romantic films place the narrative solely in the context of a will they, won't they scenario, but it's clear that this story delivers far more depth to this relationship. My only complaint with the narrative lies in the third act, as a lot of narrative ends get tied up a little too neatly for my taste, but Guadagnino has said in interviews that this is an optimistic and hopeful film, so I supposed I'm a little bit more of a jaded moviegoer than the target for this film. Thankfully, the final ten minutes of the film make up for the otherwise rushed third act. The film is two hours and fifteen minutes long, as it takes its time and lets its characters grow, but I feel like it could have benefited from a little more development from the side characters, specifically Elio's girlfriend in the film as well as his parents. Elio is let of the hook a little too conveniently for some of his actions in the film and I truly feel that these flaws should have been more acknowledged. Regardless, it's still a touching story that is handled with time and care.
The acting in this film has generated probably the most buzz for awards as the narrative and direction, and for good reason. This is a star making turn for Timothée Chalamet, as he perfectly portrays the struggle of not only the adolescent trials of seventeen, but also the burgeoning doubts and insecurities that comes with exploring sexuality, both of the homosexual and heterosexual variety. He has a girlfriend, but his true feelings lie with another man, and he is forced to reconcile with this until the very last, potentially Oscar-winning shot. This is especially relieving for me since I have been harsh on Chalamet in the past, as I felt his performance in Lady Bird was nothing short of hammy and overdone, but he redeems himself fully with his work here. Armie Hammer is also fantastic here. I have admired his work since The Social Network, and he never turned out to be quite the hunky American all-star the likes of people like Chris Pratt or Chris Pine, but ever since he made more artsy role choices ala his performances in Nocturnal Animals and Free Fire, his talents have been given more breadth to flourish, and this performance here is undoubtedly the best I've ever seen from him. Finally, Michael Stuhlbarg and Esther Garrel provide great performances as Elio's father and girlfriend respectively, with the latter providing probably the best delivered monologue on love and life in all of 2017, guaranteeing him an Oscar nomination. The film's performances are nothing short of exemplary, and every actor was cast perfectly.
Guadagnino's direction in the film is solid, and he provides more than just eye candy and good performances from his actors here. With the sound design, lighting, and period-based wardrobes, Guadagnino provides effortless immersion into 1983 Italy, and the way he directs the film provides an evocative feeling of summer warmth and adventurous intent. It's an infectious film from a composition standpoint, and even when the relationships between characters ebb and flow, the physical cinematography makes you wish you were there for every moment. Sufjan Stevens' score also provides some of the most emotionally melancholic music of the year here, as the score is perfectly orchestrated to entrap the viewer in the same feelings of affection and longing that Elio feels. If you don't necessarily fall in love with the characters, you'll probably at least fall in love with the filmmaking of Call Me By Your Name, as it's a true wonder to partake.
Call Me By Your Name is no doubt one of the most moving films of the year, and I can fully understand where the critical acclaim comes from. I honestly didn't love it as much as others seem to have, but I definitely appreciated its unbiased and unassuming message of uninhibited, unrestrained desire and the courage to seek it out, in whatever form it may take. It's definitely got a shot at winning awards for acting and directing, but personally, I was a little let down by the resolution of the screenplay up until the last couple of scenes, and that final shot...I won't say anything here, but it's simply incredible on so many levels. I will say it's definitely a film that makes you linger, and you'll be thinking about it long after you've seen it. It's definitely worth checking out, and I highly recommend it.