Queer Film Review : Call Me By Your Name
As Hollywood continues to churn out a seemingly endless barrage of sequels and prequels, reboots and remakes (not to mention a stomach-churning number of superhero snooze-fests), it is easy to forgive queer cinemagoers for feeling utterly unrepresented by what is being offered up on the silver screen.
But every now and then a film with prominent queer characters and storylines manages to break into mainstream theatres… and what a breath of fresh air it brings! In 2005 it was Brokeback Mountain. Four years later we got A Single Man.
More recently we had Carol and of course last years Best Picture winner Moonlight. This year we have Call Me By Your Name. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) and adapted from the 2007 novel by André Aciman, this romantic coming-of-age drama could not be further away from holiday blockbusters The Last Jedi or Thor: Ragnarok – and thank goodness for that.
Unfolding over the summer of 1983, we meet Elio (Timothée Chalamet) a precocious yet brash seventeen-year old who is holidaying with his parents in northern Italy. Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an archaeology professor and each year invites a student to assist with his academic paperwork. The student comes in the form of 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer), whose charisma and rugged handsomeness immediately draw the attention of Elio. The chemistry between Chalamet and Hammer is magnificent to behold and casts a spellbinding effect that anchors the entire film (it is small wonder each have received Golden Globe nominations for their performance). While the romance is slow to build, there is barely a dull moment over the two-hour plus runtime.
This is in large part due to the assured direction of Guadagnino, who weaves meaning and complexity into every single shot. Not to be overlooked is the gorgeous cinematography of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, whisking the viewer into the intoxicating Italian countryside. The soundtrack too, particularly the original songs by Sufjan Stevens (“Visions of Gideon”, “Mystery of Love”), magnifies the emotional moments of the story while perfectly capturing the wondrous feeling of falling in love for the very first time.
But what makes Call Me By Your Name so electrifying and universal goes beyond the technical prowess on display. It is the way in which the raw intensity of first love and first heartbreak is captured with every glance, word and touch between the young leads. The fact that they are both male has very little impact on the overall story; they are simply two humans falling in love over the course of a summer. We witness their relationship blossom without the threat of impending doom that plagues countless other entries in the pantheon of queer cinema. In a way similar to Moonlight, Guadagnino’s film sets aside gay politics entirely.
The conflict instead arises from the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ dynamic of the first half before transitioning to looming tension in the second half as the end of summer, and thus Elio and Oliver’s time together, draws near. It is this fleeting nature of summer romance (symbolised perhaps by the many flies that appear throughout) that makes this story feel strikingly authentic. By its heartbreaking conclusion even the most stoic of viewers will be left reaching for the tissue box and reflecting on a long-forgotten first love. And isn’t that a more powerful cinematic force than, well, ‘the force’?