Call Me By Your Name: A master-class in sensuality and texture

By Cal Morris

Image: Sony Pictures Classics


“Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot,” Dr. Lyle Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) timidly advises his son, encompassed by the pain of heartbreak and lost love. Luca Guadagnino returns with his most powerful film to date: Call Me By Your Name. Starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet as two unlikely lovers who embark on a searing and fervent relationship amidst the Italian countryside, the themes Guadagnino explores are ethereal and perceptively honest.

The sun-drenched visuals evoke the bliss of laziness synonymous with the Mediterranean summer. Elio is a young, intelligent musician fluent in French, Italian and English, lounging through a grand Italian house with his family during a seemingly endless summer. Each year his father, a classical civilisations academic, invites a student of his choice to spend the summer conducting research for his faculty; this year the delectable Armie Hammer in the role of Oliver joins him. Swimming, volleyball, reading and intense relaxation all ensue, transpired by Guadagnino’s and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s lens, which is intense and delicious. Guadagnino constructs a fantastical reality which we gladly give ourselves up to. The melancholic feeling of a first love is encapsulated, and one identifies with every timid breeze, passing cloud, and lazy afternoon spent under the sun, in the lush Italian landscape.

 

"Bursts of intense heartbreak, pleasure, and ecstasy"

 

The real standout here is Timothée Chalamet as Elio, whose performance captures perfectly the complexities of a nascent first love, and as a young man grappling with and exploring his sexuality, he is transcendent. Bursts of intense heartbreak, pleasure, and ecstasy are all captured by Chalamet via an adolescent naïveté. Working in tandem with Chalamet is Hammer’s Oliver, whose suffocating charm compliments Chalamet’s amalgamation of the complexities of youth. The chemistry between Chalamet and Hammer is palpable, each caress and gaze pulsates through the screen. The kinetic energy between the two leads is the driving force of the film, at moments I had to sit back and remind myself this is fiction.

Delicately transcribed from novel to screen by James Ivory, the dialogue is graceful and fluid; never dropping lexis regarding sexuality, but focusing on the intricacies of the blistering relationship between a young man and his father’s student. Michael Stuhlbarg’s Lyle is another salient performance, and may well be one of the most understanding and insightful studies of parenting witnessed on screen. A resonating sequence transpires through a conversation between Elio and his father; he muses on love, feeling, heartbreak and the complications of relationships; it’s revelatory.

ArtSonia Hadj Said