Call Me By Your Name is Pure Summer Sensuality

By Sam Harris | @samewlharris

First loves are intense. Discovering what it feels like to be loved, and learning to reciprocate this wild affection, does all but turn the world into a whirlwind of emotions. Like a gust of wind, Luca Guadagnino crystallises this love in Call Me By Your Namea love as beautiful and fleeting as a warm summer evening.

In the northern regions of Italy, Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) spends his time lounging in perfectly picturesque landscapes, swimming through vistas that appear painted by the hand of Monet. Pent up in a 17th century villa with his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar), Elio’s days seem but a cycle of fresh, local delicacies spread across tables and mealtimes, finding solace in flirtatious interactions with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel) and transcribing classical music—as any wealthy Italian-American boy does in the summer. From the outside, he seems to be living in luxury. It takes the entrance of Oliver (Armie Hammer), one of his father’s summer interns, for Elio to realise that his desires lie beyond teasing the locals and flipping through weathered novels.

At first it’s a rivalry. But, as Elio begins to acknowledge his desires, his interactions with Oliver transform from casual acceptance to dance – though it’s never clear who’s leading. Moments typically reserved for open flirtation revel in mystery, to the point where it becomes hard to differentiate bitter jealousy from genuine affection. Do these guys even like each other? Much of the pleasure is derived from watching the two maintain a searing tension in heated arguments over variations of Bach and outwardly projecting their dissonance for each other onto others. Things are kept courteous in front of family, but behind closed doors, on bike trips far enough away from home, they come out of their shell—their desires set to full burn.

Their love is primal, and Guadagnino captures their graceful bodies in motion, free from the conjecture of more judgemental eyes. Bound deep away in the northern reaches of one of the world’s most gorgeous countries, the world feels purely idyllic, as though sculpted from marble. Guadagnino mentions he carved out a month in between other projects to shoot the film, and its wavering idealism is palpable in every scene. The world feels romanticised to a tee, but ephemeral: ready to dissipate at any second.

Thus, when Elio and Oliver are ultimately faced with reality, their utopia begins to crumble around them. Summer ends and winter rolls around. Indie-folk darling Sufjan Stevens melts with melancholy on ‘Mystery of Love’ (“Now my riverbed has dried / Shall I find no other?”)—an original tune, commissioned by Guadagnino exclusively for the film. Flooding the film’s previously 80s-specific musical stratosphere are aching questions of inevitability, far removed from the playfulness of any Psychedelic Furs disco jam.

As the second of Sufjan Stevens’ two original tracks, ‘Visions of Gideon’, rolls over the credits, you’ll know how it all feels: love, lust, desire and heartbreak— all tied together in a purely cinematic package. “I want it to be like a box of chocolates,” describes Guadagnino. If you’ve got a bittersweet tooth, then this is your box of chocolates.

Call Me By Your Name opens in cinemas December 26 2017. 

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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