It has been over a week since I watched Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s 2007 novel ‘Call Me By Your Name’, a sweeping summer romance between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and American grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer). The story is set in an idlyic Italian villa during the 1980s and follows Elio as he discovers his sexuality and develops a relationship with Oliver. And this film, to be frank, has ruined me.
In the week since I finished watching the credits, tears streaming down my face, I have thought about this film every day. Few and far between are the films that I want to dedicate an entire blog post to, and they are normally very special films that truly move and stick with me. The ones which just leave you hanging onto them for days afterwards and completely engulf you all over again whenever you watch them. The films I would call my favourites. However, Call Me By Your Name has stuck with me more than others. Each night since I watched this I have lain awake thinking about it, unable to sleep. And each day I am both desperate to rewatch it and hesitant to.
I cannot explain why I feel this way about Call Me By Your Name. Undoubtedly, it is a splendid piece of cinema – rave reviews around the board and numerous nominations. It has beautiful cinematography, realistic yet understated dialogue, tremendous acting and vivid characters from all, and a haunting score from Sufjan Stevens that adds a dreamlike haze and emotional aura over scenes – but nonetheless, it is none of those aspects which have enraptured me so. And I cannot pinpoint what exactly has. However, for my own sanity, I will try to do so:
The film is a stunningly raw exploration of first love, self discovery and the true feeling of loss, fear and helplessness that comes with all those things. I’ve never used the term ’emotionally raw’ about a film before (I think it is a term thrown around all too often) but that is the only way to describe this film. The connection between Chalamet and Hammer feels so genuine, and while that is found in many good onscreen pairings, it somehow feels the most real I have ever witnessed. In my reviews of Carol (2015, Haynes) I have said it often feels like you are intruding upon Carol and Therese’s scenes, whether they are everyday-type scenes or intimate love scenes. The same applies with Call Me By Your Name – the characters feel so utterly only-have-eyes-for-each-other that you feel almost voyeuristic for intruding on their precious time together, and yet you simply cannot look away. You are desperate for them to be onscreen together and finally give into their connection – and when they finally do, the film quietly leaves them alone with it.
In the countless behind-the-scenes and interviews I have watched, I’ve learnt that Chalamet spent weeks in the Italian town used for filming before shooting commenced, and when Hammer joined they spent each minute with each other from rehearsals and filming through to their little downtime, which was spent alone together, doing similar activities as their characters. They have said how close this made them, and consequently how real the characters’ relationship felt. This pre-built and truthful relationship must have absolutely added to that connection and realism with which they portray their characters, but their sheer skill as actors is undeniable. Hammer gives Oliver such charisma and kindness that you can’t help but love him (as all the characters do) and his genuine caring and concern for Elio is beyond heartwrenching. Chalamet himself is incredible throughout the film, bringing a boyish endearment and precociousness to Elio – somehow captivating the youthful innocence and vulnerability, along with curiosity and an attractiveness that even I fell for! The final shot is one of Elio sat, staring into a fireplace, with tears slowly welling up and falling, as the credits roll over him. This shot is static and four minutes long. I watched the entire shot several times because that single shot was so powerful. It felt like staring at my best friend after they had their heart broken. It felt looking into a mirror when I had my own heart broken. The strength and sincerity of Chalamet’s acting in that shot are extraordinary, but more than anything it is the duration and the honesty. That shot haunts me every time I close my eyes, and when I listen to the soundtrack I cannot help but be transported into the room with him and feel myself well up. After the film you have seen, the final shot is the most perfect and fitting end.
Over the days since I watched Call Me By Your Name I have been trying to understand within myself why I cannot get it out of my head. It is partly, of course, because it is the kind of stunning, captivating and emotionally honest film I would love to one day make myself. But there are other films like that to me, and none have stuck around this intently. It feels as though real life is almost a dream, a blur, and this film is a constant floating aura around me.
In trying to understand this film’s hold over me, I can only narrow it down to the actors/characters. The sheer power of their connection. It resonates so deeply with me, and reminds me of my first (and only) time really in love, and the turmultuousness that followed. Many films can portray love beautifully, and accurately, through actors’ chemistry or great dialogue, but somehow Guadagnino and the actors have captured the power of a connection like that without needing sweeping romantic gestures or lines of cheesy dialogue. There are several beautiful lines in this film (especially Oliver’s final “I remember everything” whispered over the phone, months after their romance is cut short & Oliver reveals he is engaged) but it is more than anything the chemistry and connection between Elio and Oliver (or Timothée and Armie) that overshadows anything else within the film. It isn’t love or caring or even passion, it is the feeling of that invisible thread attaching you to someone. It’s the force and strength with which you’ll sacrifice anything to just be near them, and when you’re with them it feels like nothing else exists and the rest of the world is blurred away. It is every quiet 2am moment laying in each others arms… but it is throughout the whole film. The fact Call Me By Your Name seems to have captured this effect so effortlessly and organically is what makes it truly mesmerizing; the feeling of that connection emanating throughout the entire film and even after it ends – the same feeling that is so strong you feel as though you are getting in its way.
I hoped that in trying to put the effects of this film into words it may help me rid myself of it (in the best way) but I do not think that is possible. Perhaps I need to simply watch it over and over again until I have absorbed every ounce of its emotional honesty and realism.
I suspect this post does not make sense to many people, but I hope it may encourage you to watch this film. It has been a week since I watched Call Me By Your Name and still I was awake until 4am last night thinking about it. I do not know if I am sad, or hopeful, or lonely, or inspired… or everything. I am somehow simultaneously numb and entirely overwhelmed. This film, these actors, are a masterpiece.