Call me by your name is now playing on French screens. Fourteen months after Call me by your name made its Sundance Film Festival debut, the film is now nominated for the Oscars’ ceremony (4th March) under four categories: best performance by an actor in a leading role (Timothée Chalamet), best adapted screenplay (James Ivory), best motion picture of the year (Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, Marco Morabito) and best achievement in music written for motion pictures (original song). How is this huge success explained?
Call me by your name, directed by Luca Guadagnino, is based on the 2007 eponym novel by André Aciman. Classified as a romantic drama film, it is the third of the Luca Guadagnino’s thematic Desire trilogy following I am Love (2009) and a Bigger Splash (2015).
Summer 1983, northern Italy, seventeen-year-old Elio Perlman (Thimothée Chalamet), spends his summer vacation in a XVIIth century villa owned by his parents. He writes and plays music, swims in the river, reads and flirts with his friend Marzia. He has an excellent education thanks to his parents, whom he is really close to: his father is a doctor of Greek-Roman antiquity and leads archaeological research during the summer, and his mother is a translator. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), an attractive American studying his PhD, arrived to work under Elio’s father ...
Elio and Oliver seem to find little in common in the beginning, as Elio is an introspective bibliophile and musical prodigy, while Oliver is more exuberant and is a socialite. However, they will discover the awakening of desire together.
Elio’s love seems instantaneous, as soon as he sees Oliver, he is intrigued by him and observes him a lot. On the contrary, Oliver is reserved, leading his seducer’s game with even more success. The slow rhythm of the scenes and the evolution of the relationship between the two characters holds the spectator in suspense by the beauty of the images. Luca Guadagnino makes a subtle echo between the object of academic study of Elio’s father (the Greco-Roman period and the sculptural productions of these civilizations) and the characters of the film themselves. Elio’s father’s descriptions of the sculptures mingle with the close-ups of Elio and Oliver’s bodies, dancing, sleeping, swimming or stretching. The camera makes Elio and Oliver objects of desire and allows spectators to enter the atmosphere of this sunny and lightly summer.
The love story is sublimated thanks to the tale tone that is given to the movie. Indeed, the spatio-temporal setting is quite vague, the action takes place somewhere in the northern Italy, the places are idyllic (XVIIth century villa, cobbled streets, small neighbourhood pubs, pristine rivers, etc.) and there are few characters but each have a strong and important role. Marzia allows Elio to experience his first sexual pleasures, friendship too; Elio’s father leads him to philosophical thoughts; and the mother contributes to the intellectual awakening of Elio.
Luca Guadagnino has an epicurean way of presenting things, which contributes to the tone of seduction and desire. Indeed, the family meal scenes are always intense, both in the menus, the ongoing discussions and the twist situations. The feast and bathing scenes filmed in low-angle underline the bare bodies of the protagonists in the physical effort and contributes to arouse desire.
The characters interact with each other in different languages (French, English, Italian ... ). The choice of languages used to speak is another point subtly exploited by
the director: according to the feelings and the state of mind of Elio, the latter expresses himself in English or French to Marzia.
Finally, the director plays on the symbols: while Oliver is Jewish, Elio is interested and starts to wear the Jewish star in a necklace. The scene showing it is a declaration of love in itself whereby Elio comes back from a jump in a river and expires the Jewish star he had kept in his mouth during the jump.
We can only be seduced by thus love story between two men who meet in the space of a summer because it is brilliantly staged and incarnated by great actors who embody an allegory: that of passion.