“Is it better to speak, or to die?”
These are the words Mrs. Pearlman reads aloud to her son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and her husband from the love story about a prince who doesn’t know whether or not to express his love to the princess – the love of his life – or not. Lounging about in the living room of their 17th-century vacation villa in Northern Italy, the Pearlman family takes in the endless summer afternoon of 1983. The prince’s quandary is the same one felt by young Elio when exchange student Oliver (Armie Hammer) comes to stay with the family in Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, Call Me By Your Name, a beautiful film of discovery, pure love, and one of the best films of the year.
The summer will be a transformational one for the intelligent but still boyish 17-year-old Elio, who spends his afternoons studying classical piano sheet music and reading novels. His academic parents may have been able to culture him on the finer things in life regarding art and history, however, Elio finds himself inexperienced when it comes to understanding his feelings and own sexuality. It is only when his father’s 24-year-old American intern, Oliver, arrives at their family’s home to study for the summer, that Elio is awakened to the feelings of pure love and desire for the very first time.
‘Call Me By Your Name‘s’ universal themes are bound to resonate with everyone who has ever felt the pang in their chest the moment they knew something was different with themselves; the way just looking at a person makes one think about – makes one not able to stop thinking about– a new world of happiness, completeness, or even just the hope for it.
Call Me By Your Name (much like our previously reviewed film, Thelma) explores the theme of finding one’s voice and navigating through the messiness of being in love against the backdrop of coming to understand one’s sexual desires. Elio and Oliver’s relationship, growing closer throughout the story as they ride bikes into town and take dips in the pool, simmers into one that starts and stops with both attraction and hesitations of acting upon their desires. It plays out like a beautifully orchestrated dance. The patient, measured pace allows the audience to experience all of the visceral and sensual moments the film has to offer: the bite into a plump apricot, the sound of trickling water, the warm of the Italian sun, and an alarmingly welcomed first touch on a shoulder all convey the feelings of sensuality that first love can awaken us to.
These are the things that director Luca Guadagnino evokes so vividly in creating an endless summer with an amazing visual language (much as he did in his previous film, 2015’s A Bigger Splash). In a technical sense, Guadagnino understands how to transition between these moments, allowing the film to breathe effortlessly into the next as scenes are woven together with cross dissolves and fades rather than harsh cuts. Adding to the film’s overall tone is the original music from singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, whose whispered, confessional lyrics against the quiet staccato of melodic piano keys perfectly capture and heighten the optimism in discovery in the film.
Based on the 2007 novel from André Aciman of the same name, Call Me By Your Name was quickly regarded as a modern classic on first love. Although mainly celebrated in the LGBTQ community for its subject matter, it has since been embraced universally for its portrayal of the joy and heartache that comes from first love that transcends gender or sexuality (the film has also been nominated for six Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Feature, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor). Call Me By Your Name‘s universal themes are bound to resonate with everyone who has ever felt the pang in their chest the moment they knew something was different within themselves; the way just looking at a person makes one think about – or not able to stop thinking about– a new world of happiness, completeness, or even just the hope for it.