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TIFF Review: ‘Call Me by Your Name’ Is a Blissful, Deeply Touching Summer Romance

2017 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It’s easy to get caught up in unnecessary hyperbole when attending a film festival, especially under the excitement of your first screening. But after seeing Luca Guadagnino’sCall Me by Your Name“, I am confident in calling it an instant classic of queer cinema. Filled with moments of pure bliss, this deeply touching film is a romance for the ages.

“Call Me by Your Name” takes place in summer 1983 in the North of Italy. In this picturesque locale, American-Italian teenager Elio (Timothée Chalamet) spends the holidays in a villa with his parents, as his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) mentors summer interns as a professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture. The latest student is Oliver (Armie Hammer), a young American working on his doctorate. Tall, handsome and smart, he immediately makes an impression on each member of the family. None more so than Elio, whose fascination with the handsome stranger blooms into passionate affection throughout the course of the summer.

Jokingly referring to Oliver as the “usurper” upon his arrival, Elio unwittingly predicts the emotional upheaval that follows in this stirring story based on André Aciman’s novel. Initially skeptical of this unusually confident men, Elio soon finds himself embarking on a rich emotional journey with Oliver, handled with delicate care by James Ivory‘s patiently romantic screenplay (a sure Oscar contender for Adapted Screenplay) and Guadagnino’s uncommonly warm direction.

Indeed, what makes “Call Me by Your Name” such a special entry to the queer cinema is its life-affirming, uplifting tone. Whereas gay-themed dramas often focus on societal oppression and pain, Guadagnino’s vision is a breath of fresh air almost utopian in its design. The gorgeous fruit-laden environment naturally lends itself to a carefree, lighthearted atmosphere, which is further emphasized by the bright cinematography. And the various characters we meet are equally inviting, especially Elio’s parents, played with adorable kindness by Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar. Meanwhile, the cheerful Sufjan Stevens score gets you in the mood for love like a beautiful serenade.

You could almost criticize “Call Me by Your Name” for its surface-level perfection if it weren’t for the poignancy of the central love story and its subtle internal conflicts. In that regard, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are wonderful as the smitten lovers. Conveying a mix of youthful vulnerability and maturity, Chalamet delivers a potentially career-making performance as Elio.

Meanwhile, Hammer makes good on his best role since “The Social Network”. While his beauty makes him an obvious fit for the part, it’s his layered portrayal that truly impresses. Confident yet humble, friendly yet guarded, the seemingly effortless complexity of his acting is worthy of Oscar consideration for Best Actor (though early word says he’ll be campaigned in supporting). And the chemistry between him and Chalamet is full-bodied and genuine, full of playful teasing and tender intimacy. Just as Hammer’s Oliver leaps at every opportunity for adventure, so too does Chalamet fall head first into his arms.

Ultimately, the fleeting nature of the summer (as well as hetero-normative public expectations) puts a heartbreaking roadblock to their courtship. But the film still leaves you with an utterly beautiful message about the importance of following your heart and embracing love, which Stuhlbarg hits home with a deeply touching monologue that could net him an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. As he and the film eloquently show, true love is a pure, beautiful thing to be cherished, regardless of sexual orientation or any other constraint. It’s a message that should resonate with Oscar voters, which should put Luca Guadagnino in the running for Best Picture and Best Director for this lovely, meaningful work of art.

“Call Me by Your Name” opens in select theaters Nov. 24.

GRADE: (★★★½)

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions and see where “CALL ME BY YOUR NAME” ranks!



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Written by Shane Slater

Shane is a passionate cinephile and Tomatometer-approved film critic residing in Kingston, Jamaica. When he's not watching or writing about film, he spends much of his time wishing he lived in a big city. Shane is an avid world traveler and loves attending film festivals. He is a member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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