'Call Me By Your Name' review: Romantic ambiguity
There is a preciseness in the performances in Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name that is not just enchanting but also essential in turning the gentle romance into something substantial and profound. (READ: Love, lust, and loss in 'Call Me By Your Name')
Somewhere in Northern Italy
Timothée Chalamet, who plays 17-year old Elio, opens the film in a scene where the viewer catches him flirting with a girlfriend before being alerted by the arrival of a summertime guest. During the entire time Elio glances curiously at newcomer Oliver, played by Armie Hammer, there is palpable hesitation in what feels like an admiration that has been carefully molded so as to not be confused with something more drastic.
That admiration is bared not by grandiose expressions of affection but by all the minute gestures that expose his shallow disinterest is but a veil of his blossoming desire. He aggressively rejects Oliver's shoulder rub, takes offense at how Oliver nonchalantly says "Later!" before he unceremoniously leaves, and projects a cool indifference whenever Oliver is around. Alone, he investigates how his room which Oliver has usurped from him during that summer has changed. He wears Oliver's used trunks on his head, sniffs them for whatever essence of him that is left there.
Yet the admiration is more than drastic. Elio's coming-of-age is one that is laced with deep confusion, one where the sense of identity is volatile and tends to shift at the mere instance of a person suddenly barging into his life. Everything is vague, as uncertain as the film's setting of somewhere in Northern Italy, as easily molded as the bronze statues of naked men that have been remolded into voluptuous Venuses by some philistine pope, as adaptable as Bach's music.
Oliver, who in the first half of the film feels more like a passive and distant object of discreet desires, also exposes apprehensions in the latter half. As soon as the two men have consummated their passion, the film shifts some attention to the once-confident American who now pauses also in hesitation. Whatever emotions that circle inside Oliver's mind, whether it is the guilt of leaving an indelible impact on a susceptible youth or shame or caution, are left unsaid. This is where Hammer shines. The sudden and rather poignant cracks that he allows to appear in his character's bold exterior are all elegantly timed and skillfully portrayed.
Surrender to passion
Guadagnino romanticizes the ambiguity and assembles scenes that glamorize the on and off seduction between Elio and Oliver.
He drapes everything with heat and sunshine, making sure that the often bare lithe bodies of his secret lovers are glistening with the sweat that masks the heat they have for each other. Each element of the film is enunciated to heighten the sensuality, to get the audience to understand that each and every act that both Elio and Oliver will engage in are but natural complements of humanity's nature to simply surrender to passion. He makes it as irresistible as possible, often juxtaposing the cautious romance alongside indisputable beauty, from Italy's charming countryside to its affinity with classical art.
As opposed to the Andre Aciman novel that immediately plunges the reader into the mind of an Elio who is verbosely enamored by Oliver, Guadagnino's adaptation relishes in showing and not telling the details of Elio's bittersweet journey to self-discovery and also Oliver's intimate wrestling with the responsibility of holding Elio's hands in that journey. Without straying too far from the original material, James Ivory's translation efficiently turns the film into a different thing altogether. It is less an exposition of internal murmuring of an enchanted youth gripping with a barrage of inexplicable affection for one person and more a reflection of the consequences of loving truly and sincerely.
The film forces its audience to explore and discern the motivations of the acts that constitute Elio and Oliver's brief love story. It makes the audience complicit to their secrets.
Call Me By Your Name is quite a beautiful film but it never allows itself to be a spectacle or an ode to the beauty of a specific place. What are extravagantly visualized are the fragments of a reciprocated love that have been complicated by graceful reluctance. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass. Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.