Luca Guadagnino has directed a film that perfectly matches the tastes of modern indie moviegoers.
Elio (Timothee Chalamet) stays for the summer with his parents in a charming Italian town. Each year, his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) invites a student for an internship to help out in a study. When newly chosen student Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives, Elio becomes fascinated with him in a more than just-a-friend manner.
Homosexualism in cinema has been mostly portrayed within the frame of social intolerance, where the temptation needed to be covered by a cape of an everyday routine. This is what happened in Ang Lee’s “The Brokeback Mountain”, Todd Haynes’ “Carol” and most recently – Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning “Moonlight”. Considering such approach, Guadagnino’s idea to adapt a book that rids its protagonists of such social burden is not only refreshing, but mostly bold.
However, the Italian director did not predict that disposing of such background can also simply lead to a less emotionally engaging film. It omits the cliches related to social lack of tolerance and breaking the taboo, but at the cost of dynamics resulting from such background. The family of Elio is perfectly understanding (which derives from its multi-nationality) and the only real limitations are the intensifying teases between Elio and Oliver. Whilst both pretend on the outside to be interested in women, they look for signs in each other’s behavior as to obtain proof of interest. It’s a kind of masochistic game that the viewer was supposed to follow with flushed cheeks.
Albeit it certainly avoids the homosexual-themed cliches, “Call Me By Your Name” plays the exact same chords as many other romances – better or worse than Guadagnino’s effort. The blossoming mutual entanglement of Elio and Oliver follows the most obvious path that it possibly could have followed. It begs for bringing up “Carol” again, as Haynes’ film suffered from the same kind of melancholic dysfunction. Whilst “Call Me By Your Name” is played on a more cheerful and light note, Guadagnino can mostly charm with anything but the story. Even when the director tried to be adroit with the symbolism of a sculpture – strongly reminiscing the cherubic Elio – it did ring a bell (just take a look at the party scene from Xavier Dolan’s “Heartbeats”).
On the bright side, The Italian filmmaker proves to be a gifted visual artist. The camera work is very smooth and intelligent – it never becomes a character of the film, as it often happens in the Instagram era of filmmaking. It remains a tool to tell the story, just like the cunningly used soundtrack, which often breaks the silence gently or emphasizes the butterflies-in-the-stomach atmosphere with a Sufjan Stevens’ delicate voice. The acting is also more than solid, with Michael Stuhlbarg stealing the show in the climax scene and two equally polished performances from Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet.
Luca Guadagnino’s film is neither a disappointment, nor a masterpiece. At times, it reminds a bit of “American Honey” – a kind of love story that we all know, but buy it nevertheless. It tried to take a different angle on a concept of a romance, but sadly, most of the film’s charm is not relying on the plot or its meaning.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Dir. Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg
Hate Grade: 4/10