Saturday, December 30, 2017

Call Me By Your Name: Love is Love is Love

Call Me By Your Name is a love story, pure and simple. Based on the novel by Andre Aciman, all it does is tell the story of two men in a town somewhere in northern Italy in 1983 who slowly find their way to each other over the course of one of the most spectacular summers ever captured on film. There is no judgement, there is no gay-bashing, there are no heightened stakes and villagers with pitchforks. It is simply a gorgeous tale of uncertainty, passion, and self-discovery.

Timothee Chalamet (an actor who seems destined for multiple Oscar nominations for the rest of his life) plays 17-yr old Elio, the precocious son of an archaeology professor and a sophisticated Italian woman who spend their summers and holidays in their Italian villa. Every summer, his father invites a graduate student to stay with them, and this year, they are joined by Oliver (Armie Hammer), a brash and beautiful blond American, who seems to live his life out loud, in stark contrast to the quiet and introspective Elio. However, before long, an attraction sparks up between the two, and much of the movie consists of a tentative tango between the two men as they try to determine whether they are reading the right signals.

That's the basic plot, but there's so much more to it in terms of nuance and expression. There is very little dialogue in this movie and the romance plays out almost exclusively through tentative looks and touches. Every moment between these two men feels packed with emotion and erotically charged, and when they finally come together, they both express disappointment that they wasted so much time trying to figure out how the other person felt. It's an emotion the audience will feel too, because there is nothing more beautiful than seeing this relationship spark to life on screen.

I watched this movie during a particularly frigid New York winter evening and yet for two hours I felt blissfully warm and content. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom will transport you into Italy for the duration of this film, making you long to swim in the sun-drenched waters of the Mediterranean and drink fresh-squeezed apricot juice all day long. The conversations between Elio and his family members and the servants made me laugh as they reminded me so much of my own chats with family - over the course of a simple conversation, one might meander through three or four different languages. Elio will switch from English to French to Italian from one sentence to the next, and it all lends more authenticity and panache to this idyllic world where people are free to live their lives and experience everything that this gorgeous setting has to offer.

It's hard to say much about this film apart from simply urging people to watch it. It is a mood piece, an atmospheric and masterfully told story that seems to soak into your skin. You don't really watch this movie; you feel it. I felt like I was a part of this world, a fly on the wall as various little family dramas took place, and I could have easily spent more languorous hours with these characters. Sufjan Stevens contributed two original songs to the soundtrack, and while the first one came out of nowhere and was a little jarring to me, by the time "Mystery of Love" started playing, I was wholly invested in this film and haven't been able to stop humming the tune for the past three days.

Towards the end of this movie, the marvelous Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Elio's father, has a monologue. This would be considered his "Oscars clip" but putting aside such jaded considerations, it is a perfect summation of everything this movie stands for. It is a beautiful rumination on the nature of love and a reminder that life doesn't always have to be a painful and fraught endeavor, but something that can bring you joy and wonder too. The final scenes of the movie are the reason Chalamet will win a million awards, but are also the perfect bittersweet ending to a movie that has held your heart in the palm of its hand for its entire runtime. Call Me By Your Name hurts, but it is a joyful experience too. 

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