Ben Theriault, Staff Writer
Luca Guadagnino’s newest film and final addition to his thematic Desire trilogy—Call Me by Your Name—proves to be a beautifully devastating meditation on sexual awakening, first love, self acceptance and loss. The film stars Timothee Chalamet as a precocious 17 year old, Elio, and Armie Hammer as a 24 year old devoted archeology-graduate student, Oliver.
Elio spends his summers living in his family’s villa in an undisclosed location in Northern
Italy with his two parents and live in maid, Mafalda, during the year 1983. His father—who is an archeology professor—invites Oliver to study with him and assist him with work for the summer.
Initially Elio views Oliver as arrogant and begrudgingly shares his room with him. Elio shows Oliver around and they interact minimally. While Oliver gets adjusted, Elio continues to pursue a relationship with his summer fling, Marzia.
As time progresses, Elio and Oliver find themselves spending more time alone together. It is quickly established that Elio’s feelings are beginning to change when the camera later pans to him scribbling in a notebook about Oliver.
Elio’s mother asks the question “is it better to speak or to die?” which becomes a central theme throughout the film. This idea of “taking a risk and acting instead of torturing yourself with what could have been” dwells with Elio. Eventually acting on this concept he indirectly tells Oliver his feelings for him. They engage in a beautifully orchestrated ballet of words, dancing around the topic of their feelings for one another until their affection is mutually understood.
The exchange ends with Oliver stating that “We can’t talk about these kinds of things.” Despite constructing a jovial atmosphere, Guadagnino still allows the reality of the time and setting to permeate the story. Through comments like “we haven’t done anything to be ashamed of yet” and a later scene where they discuss conversion therapy, discrimination and societal pressure is able to quietly linger.
After disclosing his feelings, Oliver begins to act distant. Oliver leaves that night and Elio, who falsely believes Oliver is seeing a lover, quietly refers to him as a traitor. The next day a heart broken Elio calls Marzia and he presumably loses his virginity to her.
During the film, Elio and Oliver both struggle uniquely with their bisexuality. This is manifested through intimate scenes of them both individually along with rich imagery to accompany.
His father being an archeology professor and Oliver being the student is an eloquent way to represent the uncovering of one’s own sexuality. The professor speaks about the statues he uncovers with Oliver stating that “All of the men have curved bodies as if they want you to desire them.” further strengthening the comparison and connection between the physical and spiritual.
Eventually Elio and Oliver rekindle their bond and make love for the first time. Afterwards, Oliver says call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine. Through this action Guadagnino is able to develop a powerful overarching theme: projecting one’s name onto a loved one creates a physical representation of loving one’s self.
Guadagnino fixates on masturbation in the film. There are multiple scenes of Elio alone, each time involving Oliver’s image or memory to varying degrees. These scenes are a brutally candid confrontation on human development and reinforce the theme of self-love.
Throughout the film there is a small recurring detail—on three occasions there is a fly that circles Elio. The fly is perhaps a physical manifestation of bothersome thoughts or struggles with sexuality; the fly is something always present and cannot be caught. Paired with this minutia is the abundance of and focus on fruit, a reference to blossoming sexuality.
Call Me by Your Name was shot on 35mm film by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom in Crema, Italy, as well as in neighboring villages Moscazzano and Pandina. Beautiful cinematography was paired with an equally stunning soundtrack encompassing artists ranging from Bach to the Psychedelic Furs. For the film, Indie artist Sufjan Stevens provided three haunting new songs which couple with the melancholic atmosphere of the film perfectly.
Unlike many facets of media, the pair’s bisexuality is never looked at as a phase or even worse—a punchline. With a dynamic cast that works fluidly together, breathtaking scenery and a meticulously crafted story, there are few films that feel as genuine as Call Me by Your Name.
The film has been nominated for four Oscars including: best picture, best screen adaptation, best actor for Chalamet’s performance and best original song for Stevens’s “Mystery of Love.”