In no time at all, this exceptional film has acquired a cult status worthy of a masterpiece, which it is. Provided you can sink into its languorous self-indulgent pace. Nothing pronouncedly dramatic happens on the surface as director Luca Guadagnino’s epicurean excursion into the arena of the erotic begins to play itself out in a dreamy hazy mood.
“Call Me By Your Name” unfolds like a beautiful dream. Set in an idyllic Italian town where people have nothing to do except eat, drink, take long bicycle rides and make love, the narrative seeks out plot points of acute interest through its languid lyrical language. In doing so little and in saying so much through its exquisite silences, “Call Me By Your Name” achieves a rare and exceptional synthesis of felt and fulfilled desire, bridging the gap between wanting and getting with a nonchalance that is at once seductive and disturbing.
As everyone knows by now, the film tracks down the brief romance between Elio, the 17-year old son of a liberal academician Perlman (just how liberal, we know only at the end) and his rather sexily bohemian wife Annella. The mother (Amira Casar) more than the father senses the growing passion between her son and their houseguest. She isn’t shocked. We aren’t surprised by her unconditional acceptance of her son’s romantic attachment. Elio fights it harder than his parents. The more he tries to shut out the sexual awakening, the more it knocks on the doors of his feelings.
The ache of first love, the wounded recognition of one’s sexuality and sexual preference are put on film through the marvelously subdued expressions of yearning and suffering by Timothy Chalamet, who is quite a find. Chalamet portrays Elio’s exploratory overtures with an almost symphonic grace.
Music, in fact, is embedded in the film’s soul. And if Indians ever get a chance to see this film about forbidden love (Section 377, remember?), do not miss the piano pieces that play with a haunting energy and a tragic inevitability across the wonderfully desolate universe of Gudagnino’s love story.
While Chalamet is indeed the discovery of the year, the actual hero of the film and the actor who stuns you is Armie Hammer. Playing the archetypal Handsome Intruder, who shakes up the placid Italian household with his insanely magnetic looks and charm, Hammer could easily have been a cardboard caricature of the Seductive Hunk. But Hammer, with his insanely good looks and a talent for being liked if not loved, turns his character Oliver into something of an irresistible enigma. A reined-in lothario, if you will.
Yes, there are prolonged scenes of intense intimacy between the unlikely couple. But so profound is the director’s comprehension of the depths of romantic love that we forget the gender of the two actors. We don’t see the love-making on screen. We see love.
Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s lenses are never voyeuristic. Then there is Sufjan Stevens’ music. Together, the camera and the music invite us to witness the music of the senses in bouts of eroticism and tragic separation that leave us gasping in delight and hankering for more.
The much talked-about finale where Elio’s father, played by the very accomplished Michael Stuhlbarg, tells his son to hold on to the precious feelings that have been unleashed within him, provides us with a dilemma that no film on forbidden love has ever thrown forward: there is no opposition to forbidden love! There are no villains in this love story. And yet the inevitable parting and separation… What remains are the pangs and the pain.
Finally, as the camera closes in on the grieving Elio’s face… as tears trickle down, the strains of the song “Visions Of Gideon” fill the soundtrack with an aching nostalgia that will linger in our memory for as long as they there is life and love in this universe.
This film must release in India. If it doesn’t, viewers will miss an experience that transcends the limitations of cinema. What we see is what the lovers feel. And what they feel cannot be put into words.