For all its patient development, one of the year’s most entertaining and transporting films has to be Call Me By Your Name. Though it’s about two bi-sexual men falling in love, it’s a romantic movie that transcends gender, as it celebrates the openness of gender fluidity without short-changing the idealism of love. Directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by the legendary James Ivory, who adapted the 2007 novel by Andre Aciman, the film is exquisitely shot by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom with an often ingeniously timed use of piano-heavy classical music score that features Bach and Debussy, among others. At the heart of the film is an American graduate student named Oliver (Armie Hammer, wielding dashing nonchalance to utmost charm) on archeological research in Italy and the student’s host professor’s 17-year-old son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet in a breakout performance), a sexually confident teen with the ladies who falls to emotional pieces when he crushes hard on Oliver. It’s 1983 and everything moves a little slower in this time, yet the two-hour and 12-minute movie never feels as though it drags.
A love like this does not happen in a vacuum. The charms of the blossoming relationship includes misunderstandings, serendipitous meetings, playful teasing and sincere expression of feelings. The two leads show an ease with it that is both casual and intense. Two young women are in the periphery, but the passion is with the two males, and it’s a passion that takes time to build — until well over halfway through the movie. The film’s playfulness is augmented by charming piano melodies that appear to accompany immaterial scenes, often preceding a calm tracking shot to reveal the grandiosity of the European summer home Oliver is guest in or even a courtyard where a majestic tree overtakes the background, as the pair explore the center of town together.
There’s a lot of hype about the presence of a couple of Sufjan Stevens songs that are used to accompany the narrative. However, the film doesn’t work so well when it ratchets up the emotions with these songs during montage sequences. It turns these moments into a kind of glorified music video and says more about Guadagnino’s love for the songs than the love at the center of the film. If there is one song that works better at enhancing the film’s charms is the recurring appearance of the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” and Oliver’s obsessive dancing to it. It also allows for insight into understanding the differences between Oliver and Elio. For Oliver, fun and frivolity trumps a relationship, something that will ultimately break Elio’s heart.
Another element that some may gripe about but is hardly as egregiously sentimental as the Stevens songs, is the sincere closing monologue by Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) that will seem too ideal to be true for the complexity of relationships queer people have with their parents. However, it’s not without complete fault, as Stuhlbarg performs it with a tug of personal reticence and regret but also with an empathy more fathers should have for their extension of experience: their sons. It also earns its place in this movie, as ultimately, the film is about the idealism of love where little statements between lovers locked in embrace can speak a line like “I love this,” so that it rings with a pure honesty. This is also a movie where a union can feel so beyond the individuals so as to earn a line between the men that encapsulates the movie and book’s title: “Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.”
Call Me By Your Name runs 132 minutes, is in English, Italian, French and German with English subtitles and is rated R. It opens Friday, Dec. 22, in our Miami area at AMC Aventura 24, MDC’s Tower Theater (with Spanish subtitles) and South Beach Regal 18 Miami Beach. Further north, in Broward County it opens at the Classic Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale. Then, on Friday, Dec. 29 it arrives at O Cinema Miami Beach. For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit the film’s official website and click “get tickets.” This is an extended review for a movie I first caught as a guest at Miami Film Festival GEMS 2017, last month (Miami Film Festival GEMS 2017 premieres 5 films coming soon).