Call Me By Your Name (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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It's boring, if beautiful, in the Italian vacation home of Elio.  Days go by as he transcribes music, reads, and spends time with his girlfriend.  The arrival of Oliver, an older graduate student who will be living in his home, brings the cautious Elio out of his bubble and into tentative seduction.  Luca Guadagnino directs Call Me By Your Name, with the screenplay written by James Ivory, and stars Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer.

There was once a relationship which haunted my dreams.  The way she smelled, tasted, looked under the streetlight in that knitted hat when we kissed, laughed at the inconsequential lights flickering from the television - every bit carved into the space between the moments I slept and wandered awake.  She doesn't exist, I know she doesn't exist, yet I could recall precise moments where we'd get sandwiches or she'd sip tea while I wrote.  This was an amalgamation of desire, one that faded when I met and eventually married my wife, but one I can still close my eyes and feel on my skin and in my hands.

Call Me By Your Name echoes in this space between fantasy and reality, where a whole lifetime of unlived possibility lingers between each note on the soundtrack and sunbeam draped onto the shoulders of Oliver (Armie Hammer).  Sex and romance meld, concerns of the body and the spirit are briefly unified in glorious harmony and then - all at once - they're gone.  I would wake up from the relationship that never existed, and on the screen a boy stares into a fire wondering if he'll ever burn with that kind of passion again.

Desire isn't constrained to one person or sex in Call Me By Your Name with Elio and Oliver both tasting what life has to offer.

Luca Guadagnino's career is dotted with these small miracles of differing affect.  He came to my attention with I Am Love, a film where Tilda Swinton's romantic stirrings moved the weather to mirror her emotional state.  I enjoyed the film, but something so fantastic as moving the weather is something entirely of dreams and not of reality.  Call Me By Your Name is trickier, somehow less fantastic but all the more sublime, as Oliver and Elio (Timothée Chalamet) take cautious steps toward one another while tasting what life has to offer.  Sex is a state of beauty beyond simple hetero or homosexual pairings, both taste deeply of women and men alike, but it's only in each other do they find a passion that defines their lifetime desires.

Call Me By Your Name is a film so sumptuous it dares you to not fall in love from the first image of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom's cinematography on.  Mukdeeprom's no stranger to bringing the environment to life as he dabbled in the fantastic with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.  Sunlight and water hit bare torsos of statues featuring models long dead, but in the glint and texture of the water's surface they look as brilliantly alive as the passionate humans dredging them from the depths.  The weather that shifted to the emotional palette of characters in Guadagnino's earlier films is reflected in the space between.  A late night disco party simmers with smoke between dancers as the bright colors of their clothes shine like defiant beacons in the dark.

Hammer and Chalamet take to this tantalizing space with shock at the depths of their desire.  Oliver, in particular, benefits from the conflicted emotions that Hammer brings to his eyes.  My favorite moment is also one of the more isolated and quiet ones in Call Me By Your Name, as Oliver closes the door on a rapidly aroused Elio and astonishment, lust, a bit of shock, and the tiniest hint of fear all find comfortable symbiosis in Hammer's gaze.  The moment receives its negative imprint in the closing shot where Chalamet's long, quiet, and barely repressed struggle collides in memory where Hammer's was painfully present.

While my high points are the two apart, when together they are positively stunning.  They taunt and tease, leaving Guadagnino's camera to linger on a shoulder squeeze that goes a bit deeper than a simple massage.  There's a lightness to their relationship that leaves plenty of room for humor, and in Elio's clumsy attempts to secure Oliver's lust I watched a moment of direct sexual flirtation that's silly and so honest in Elio's bluntness I had to laugh - partly out of remembering similar moments directed both toward and from me, and as a shield against remembering that desperate longing.  Their's is a chemistry so rare I hope they never try to revisit it as the spell cast in Call Me By Your Name is so delicate any reflection is bound to muddy what they accomplish.

Elio's parents are supporting players to his coming-of-age and withhold any judgment for reasons beautifully revealed in a late-film speech.

My only complaint lies in Sufjan Stevens' music.  Not for the tunes themselves, as they're lovely and tinker in unpredictable directions on a piano-heavy score, but because their impulsive wandering hints at a similarly unpredictable course for the romance that is anything but.  The music often times calls for something weirder and, while there is one scene involving an apricot that dives into a rare level of on-screen sexual experimentation, the romance in Call Me By Your Name develops on largely expected levels.

The appeal is in the details.  Sun draping Oliver's shoulders as he appears on the top of an open-air staircase, Elio and Oliver tracing monuments in one another's skin in the dark, and that final shot which left me remembering every romantic regret while grateful I found the will to move on.  Elio's father has plenty to say about this, though not in the fashion you might expect, and I must admit I landed in a less pessimistic space than he did.  I can still dream, the question remains if Elio will go to sleep able to do the same.

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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Screenplay written by James Ivory.
Starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer.

Posted by Andrew

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