Sunday 5 November 2017

Call Me By Your Name - Luca Guadagnino

Call Me By Your Name - Luca Guadagnino

Coming out as gay should never be rushed. It's an intensely personal experience that is different for everyone. But imagine the exhaustion and confusion of denial. Imagine waiting too long and missing out. Imagine never being able to come at all.

Based on the novel from André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name is a coming of age film that explores all of this with devastating effect. A fleeting summer romance between an Italian teen and an American student, it's a slow burn of creeping realisation, of nervous thrills and tentative flirtation that blossoms too late. Cripplingly so.

It's set "somewhere in Italy" in 1983, but really it could be anywhere and anytime. The film has a timeless, dreamlike quality, like the joy of an endless summer that's tragically cut short. Director Luca Guadagnino captures the ennui of a hot Italian summer, where there's nothing to do but sunbathe, play music and fall in love. Short scenes flit impatiently from location to location, each saturated with colour. Heat bursts from the screen in verdant gardens, dusty buildings, trickling pools of water and body sweat. It has the air of an impressionist painting, which the often jittery and hypnotic piano score (mainly pieces from modern composers like John Adams and Ryuichi Sakamoto) only heightens. It's like a Monet painting scored by Debussy.

Into this dream walks Oliver, played by Armie Hammer. Like the statues of antiquity he studies, he is an imposing, gigantic Adonis. Filmed from below, he towers over the camera, every bit the American movie star, a clumsily bullish alien in delicate, artistic Europe. He makes an immediate impression on the professor's family he stays with - he's charming and easy to fall for.

That's exactly what happens with Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the professor's son. This is his story, the story of a teen exploring all sides of his sexuality and discovering who he really is. And while the romance between him and Oliver sounds like something from an erotic fantasy - a look across the dinner table, a fleeting touch across the back, bike rides tempered with sexual tension - it's all incredibly tender and sensitively played. Chalamet in particular embodies the confused Elio, one minute masturbating with a peach in delirious fantasy, the next breaking down in shame and guilt.

Seeing the two men in love is such a joy, their chemistry so tangible and real it's like an all too brief enchantment. But it's not to last. What if Elio had had the courage to say something earlier? What if Oliver's visit wasn't temporary and they could stay in this euphoric, carefree state for eternity?

The ending is a gut punch, made doubly so by Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio's father who almost steals the film with one beautiful speech about the emotions of love and loss, and pure acceptance of his son without patronising. If all the world were the same, it'd be a much better place to live.

Then the original songs of Sufjan Stevens kick in and all crumbles into weeping. Call Me By Your Name is a magnificently dreamlike film: stunning and poetic and artistic and life-affirming and devastating. Just remember: it's never too late to tell someone you love them.


Watch: Call Me By Your Name is out now.