EIFF: ‘Call Me by Your Name’ is a Breathtaking and Intimate Exploration of First Love

There is a large catalogue of coming-of-age stories in the annals of cinema, but few of them are as masterful as director Luca Guadagnino’s latest, Call Me by Your Name.

The film, adapted from the homonymous novel by Andrè Aciman, takes place during the summer of 1983 and gives an intimate look at the developing relationship between 17-year-old Elio (Timothèe Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the 24-year-old grad student interning with Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) in the Italian countryside.

Too often in film do romantic plot-lines feel truncated; characters seem to meet and fall in love over the course of a few scenes or a cheesy relationship montage. The exact opposite is true here. In Call Me by Your Name, audiences get to really witness the relationship between Elio and Oliver develop in a way that is seldom seen on screen.

It would be an oversimplification to call the film a slow burn. The pacing is very relaxed, but that doesn’t translate to a boring movie, or one that takes too long to capture an audience’s interest. Guadagnino gives the viewer a chance to really get to know these characters and provides a nuanced and intimate look at the connection that they develop. Every scene, no matter how simple or short, explores these characters and their relationship; not a single frame is wasted. The extreme intimacy with which we are able to see Elio and Oliver come together is incredible. This doesn’t feel like two actors in a movie. It feels like seeing two real people slowly fall for each other, express their feelings, and finally come together.

The romance between Elio and Oliver is the heartbeat of the film, and it’s given life by two award-worthy performances from Hammer and Chalamet. Hammer, proving once again that he’s got first-rate acting chops to accompany his good looks, brings to Oliver a charisma, confidence, and warmth that feels completely authentic. Chalamet contrasts him as the quiet-natured Elio, with a performance full of nuance and awkwardness. Both actors successfully convey how their characters feel even when nothing is being said.

The chemistry that the two actors share is simply unforgettable. The emotional connection shared by Oliver and Elio can believably be translated between the actors themselves. The love between the two men is felt in every aspect of their performances: in the way they hold each other, talk to each other, and look at each other–their love transcends the screen.

The rest of the cast is likewise excellent, with particular notice given to Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s compassionate and wise father. Without giving anything away, in one of the final scenes of the film, Stuhlbarg delivers a mesmerizing monologue that will keep the audience hooked on every word he has to say, the wisdom he offers being something we can all take to heart.

The sun-kissed Italian countryside which forms the backdrop against which the tale unfolds is as breathtaking as the love story set within it. The beautiful setting makes the production feel lavish and rich, further casting viewers under the film’s spell. The way the film’s location is utilized by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is equally effective, capturing the emerging bond between Elio and Oliver as they walk, bike, and swim through their picturesque surroundings, culminating in a brilliant shot of the two men finally admitting their feelings for each other.

Call Me by Your Name is the height of the cinematic craft, masterfully capturing the joy, sorrow, and self-discovery of first love. It’s a film without equal that should not only be seen, but experienced.

Grade: A+

(Featured Image: Call Me by Your Name, Sony Pictures Classics)

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