By Jason Abdow
When it comes to Awards season, moviegoers understand how “Oscar bait” movies go. They usually all come out at the end of the year, trying to stand out, a few will get their deserved awards and either are forgotten or become a piece of movie trivia. This is not to say these movies are bad, this is my favorite time of the year, but if you ask a random person now about “Bridge of Spies” or “Fences” they probably won’t have much to tell you about them. All this being said, once in a while a film comes along that transcends this standard and is great beyond the context of the awards conversation. These are movies that are so masterfully crafted, come across as natural and demand to be remembered for years to come. In 2017, that movie is “Call Me by Your Name.”
What makes “Call Me by Your Name” so great is how it is able to take its simple story, which revolves around a blossoming relationship set in Northern Italy during the summer of 1983. We start off following Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old who is wise beyond his years and is making the most of his summer in Italy. Then once a handsome 24-year-old graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer), comes to live with his family, an interesting relationship begins to bloom. And yes, as you could probably guess from all the promotional materials from this, Elio and Oliver start to become romantically involved. But this is not a simple love story where they immediately fall in love, but the movie takes its time to build both characters before even beginning to get into their relationship. This will be inevitably where this film could lose people.
At 132 minutes, this is a movie that knows how to take its time, for better or for worse. While I thought the character development was wonderful, seeing Elio initially disliking Oliver and watching as they slowly fall in love from there, many might find the pacing a bit slow at first but trust me the wait is completely worth it. Being able to see Elio and Oliver play off of each other the way they do is heartwarming and while you know the entire time where the movie is eventually going to go, you just want to see these two together so bad that you just go along with it. This can all most likely be attributed to James Ivory’s adaptation of André Aciman novel of the same name.
While some might see it as pretentious, the characters are all incredibly intelligent, Elio is the son of a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Oliver is an esteemed graduate student, and they do not ever let you forget how smart they are. Throughout the film, these characters are all constantly testing each other, occasionally in different languages, having deep conversations on art, culture, etc. and even as someone who would have nothing to say in these discussion, I found it riveting.
Ivory’s script only compliments Luca Guadagnino’s direction, which no doubt will put him in contention for a Best Director nod come Oscar morning. The way Guadagnino portrays Northern Italy is breathtaking and makes you want to jump on the next flight over. Between the sights and sounds of the city, the foods that are being served, the music being played, you can tell everything on screen was intentionally placed there to add to the story in some way. It is the kind of meticulous craftsmanship all directors should be striving to achieve. And yes, this movie would be absolutely nothing if it were not for the performances delivered by its actors.
Mainly, the main three performances of Chalamet, Hammer and Stuhlbarg. While his screen time is shorter compared to the first two, Michael Stuhlbarg makes the most of his time he is given. He is the kind of loose, liberal father we all wish we could have as a kid. He is very open and honest throughout the movie and eventually delivers a monologue that is one of the best moments this film has to offer. While I have previously enjoyed a couple of his performances, I had always been disappointed in Armie Hammer’s career. He has never really seemed to be able to live up to the movie star he clearly could be. That being said, he is finally given the chance to show us the talent he has. While Oliver might initially seem like just another confident, handsome guy, Hammer is able to add so much depth to the character. But the true standout here is Timothée Chalamet, who at such a young age is able to own his role as Elio.
As mentioned before, Chalamet is clearly committed to the role, having conversations in English, Italian and French fluently and proving he is one hell of a piano player too. There is a scene where Oliver asks Elio to play a song on the piano and each time Elio plays it a little differently. This might seem like a small scene but it is all done in one take, with Chalamet playing the piano himself, differently each time. It is these subtle characteristics that really show off his talent. But besides these things, Chalamet plays Elio as incredibly intellectual, while also being a standard emotionally immature teenager. It is a difficult role to play and he pulls it off masterfully. Chalamet even acts his way through the film’s final shot and this one shot of him is so haunting it made me tear up. Not many actors are able to say they could do that with a single reaction.
So if you cannot tell, this is one of the best movies of the year and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys these types of independent artsy films. From a technical standpoint this is a nearly flawless film and even the slow first half ends up paying off in the end. Not only do I think this is an Oscar worthy film but a movie film professors will show their classes for years to come. It is an excellent example of how to naturally write and direct a compelling story without falling for any of the tropes it could have. This is such an effortlessly gorgeous cinematic experience and is certainly worth your time.