How can I find a way to make you see I love you?
Words don’t come easy.
The lyrics to F.R. David’s classic 1982 synth pop song is the perfect distillation at the heart of “Call Me By Your Name” and plays during one of the film’s pivotol love scenes. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, the filmmaker behind “I Am Love” and the upcoming “Suspiria” remake, CMBYN explores a temporary, sun-kissed romance and the obsessive nature of love and friendship. Following in the footsteps of “Moonlight” and “Pariah”, it’s the latest in a string of queer stories being told in the hands of competent directors.
An adaptation of the 2007 novel by André Aciman, “Call Me By Your Name” is the story of seventeen year old Elio’s summer of love spent “somewhere in northern Italy”. His family is joined by a fellow American, the much older and statuesque figure of adulthood, Oliver, his father’s latest intern. As their friendship grows, Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet) becomes obsessed with Oliver (played by Armie Hammer).
Guadagnino has crafted a near perfect queer romance. The film left me breathless from the jump, opening with a gorgeous title sequence layered with images of classic marble male figure. “...ageless beauty, as if they’re asking you to desire them” Elio’s father, a historian, remarks on these statues later in the story. These silent figures of desire and antiquity weigh over the rest of the film, mirroring the unspoken longing both Elio and Oliver feel through a majority of “Call Me By Your Name”.
In a film with no real antagonist, the film’s strength lies in the wordless, touchless tension building throughout the first half until the protagonists eventually come together. Chalamet and Hammer shine in the quiet moments and nuanced conversations, unable to say what they truly mean but somehow the audience understands. Unlike most mainstream gay films, these characters are not outwardly afraid of being assaulted, arrested, condemned to Hell, or thrown out of their homes by conservative family members. Their internal struggle lies in the inability to speak, to touch hands while walking the empty streets, or just to lie together for one night. It is refreshing to see a queer romance allowed to shine on film, unincombered by the usual cinematic tropes.
“Is it better to speak or to die?” Elio’s father (played by Michael Stuhlbarg in one of the film’s best performances), reads to Elio from “The Heptaméron”.
Once Elio does eventually confront his feelings, Oliver holds him off as long as possible. “We can’t talk about those kind of things,” Oliver remarks. The film perfectly captures the push and pull of a relationship with a clear expiration date. Elio is still only seventeen and living with his parents, and Oliver is only around for the summer.
There were a few stylistic choices with the sound design that jolted me out of the narrative, but otherwise the music and score were brilliantly handled by indie rock angel Sufjan Stevens and Japanese composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto.
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the film’s (and novel’s) most infamous scene: Elio fingering and fucking a ripe peach picked from the garden. The exquisite attention to detail, sounds of the juiced peach dripping and dribbling down Elio’s lips and chest give a tacticle quality to the scene. This scene is more erotic and emotionally layered than any overt sex scene could have ever been. Guadagnino clearly has a keen eye for the romantic and the absurd. In the film’s final moments, the camera lingers on Elio, fruit flies crawling up and down his arms. Emotionally bruised but still ripe and feeling, not wasted.
With delicate direction and expert performances by the films leads, "Call Me By Your Name" will go down as one of my favorite queer films of all time.