NYFF Film Review: ‘Call Me by Your Name’ Encapsulates a Measured Love for the Ages

2017 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: One year after “Moonlight” wins the Academy Award for Best Picture, it’s tempting to look at something like “Call Me by Your Name,” the newest feature from director Luca Guadagnino, and compare the two since they deal with similar subjects.  You are doing a disservice to any film in the future that approaches homosexuality in its premise just as it would be awful to compare the science fiction nature of “Gravity” and any other space movie that follows.  With that said, there’s much to admire with Guadagnino’s coming-of-age story about first love and how we interpret it.  Anchored by a duo of riveting performances by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, “Call Me by Your Name” is a spiritual and effervescent experience.

“Call Me by Your Name” tells the story of Elio (Chalamet), the son of an American professor (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) who becomes enamored by Oliver (Hammer), a graduate student who comes to live with his family in northern Italy over a summer in 1983.

The film lives and dies by the extravagant work of Timothée Chalamet, who is earth-shatteringly brilliant in one of the year’s best performances.  Chalamet soars in the silences, not needing to deliver a grandiose speech in order to get his point across.  It’s a symphony of emotions, orchestrated in a meticulous and euphoric performance that is felt from minute one to the end credits.  He displays reservations one moment before melting into a surrendered and passioned lover.

Armie Hammer entered our cinematic lives in David Fincher’s “The Social Network” seven years ago before confidently climbing the ranks of an actor to watch.  As Oliver, Hammer has solidified himself as a master thespian, capable of the most glorious effects of a performer.  Hammer exudes a paralysis of affection, swirling in a meditation that keeps the viewer guessing his true and intimate intentions.  Even by the film’s end, we are not utterly convinced about how he truly feels and that’s not a bad thing at all.  We know the inner workings of his motives, but we aren’t sure on how he feels about them.  He constantly keeps you guessing, even hours after the movie has ended.

Utterly brief but clearly impactful is the work of the undervalued Michael Stuhlbarg.  In one scene, he turns the film on its head, echoing a future that we can only hope to have for one another.  It’s one of the most beautiful scenes of the year, perhaps the decade in a poignant and graceful composition.

There are some thoughts on how people could respond this character.  Perhaps with not much evidence, but I believe that if you know someone who has struggled with their sexuality or you, yourself struggled with it, the impact of the words in which Stuhlbarg speaks emulates a dream we only wish were one-hundred-percent exhibited in households around the world.

The words of James Ivory are a magnitude of hope and a deep sorrow of regret, all bottled in the underlying message that love is unconditional, especially in the family.  It’s hard to pinpoint if it’s the performance that transcends the beauty of that scene or if it’s script and/or direction.  Perchance it’s all, who knows?  It’s something that came across, and it’s worth speaking about.  Knowing friends and family who have struggled with the outcome of their families knowing the truth about who they are, the scene can have an impassioned response.

Screenwriter James Ivory litters the film with a symbolic ambiance that will have you aching to revisit.  From the timing of the flies or the look of a dance, Ivory nails just about every nuance.  Where it seems to deal a headscratcher is in the choices in which Elio decides to explore his sexuality.  At 17 years old, there seems to be an exploration of his body and urges.  It all rings true but an examination of an apricot that follows not one, but two full-blown sexual experiences seem a bit misplaced.  It also leads to wonder how a conservative moviegoer will react to such behavior.  Will it turn them off or will they be open to what it has to say and offer?  Granted, we’ve seen the wet dream of Chiron but this seemed much more “graphic” than what a traditionalist may be used to.

Luca Guadagnino’s direction is something that you can’t help to admire. Gorgeously shot by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom while sensually edited by Walter Fasano, Guadagnino lets everyone explore their most intimate feelings through their gifts.  Likely closer to “Boyhood” than “Moonlight,” the director knows the story he wants to tell and lets his own wonders bleed in every frame.  A true joy to witness.

Call Me by Your Name” has an undeniable beauty, soaring through our souls in a wistful delight.  Moving and elegant, “Call Me by Your Name” is a standout of the fall movie season.  A must-see.

“Call Me by Your Name” is screening at the New York Film Festival, is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, and opens in theaters on Nov. 24.

GRADE: (★½)

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MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |