BFI London Film Festival ’17 Review: ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is a sun-soaked masterpiece

Like most people on Film Twitter, I first discovered ‘Call Me By Your Name’ after hearing its rapturous reception from Sundance and reading the flurry of tweets hailing it as a masterpiece. I was instantly dying to see it and the thought of waiting until the end of the year bothered me and refused to go away, like an itch that’s impossible to reach. I think I might just be addicted to good cinema, willing to go to any lengths to get another fix. So I did what any person without self-restraint would do — I bought plane tickets to Berlin, and dragged my friend to see the film on the last day of Berlinale, under the pretense of a mid-term holiday. She thought the film was fine, but it affected me far more than I ever anticipated. That very same week, I came out as bisexual. 

Coming to terms with my sexuality was something I struggled with for months — I knew that I was attracted to girls but I refused to admit it, and I couldn’t let go of my heteronormative mindset that was hammered into me from birth. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ was the push that I needed to accept who I was. I saw a lot of myself in Elio (Timothée Chalamet) — I like languages, literature and playing piano (though nowhere near to the extent of Elio, who is stupidly smart and talented). But as he confesses to Oliver (Armie Hammer), he may be book-smart but he knows very little about the things that matter. “What things?” Oliver asks. “You know what things,” Elio replies. On top of that, Elio is a tragic overthinker and overcompensates for his insecurities by showing off. (It’s like they transplanted my entire personality into this scrawny teenage boy!) And then there’s the fact that Elio is undoubtedly bisexual, attracted to both Oliver and Marzia (Esther Garrel). Very rarely, if ever, have I seen characters in film who were overtly bisexual, and the film’s frank depiction of bisexuality was refreshing and personally enlightening. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ was a wakeup call — I was Elio and Elio was me.

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I watched the film again (twice) at London Film Festival, and I was reminded why the film not only deeply resonated with me, but also that it really is as good as everyone says it is. Set “somewhere in Northern Italy” in 1983, Luca Guadagnino films the lush scenery with a languorous, sun-kissed quality, basking in the summer heat. Guadagnino takes it down a notch compared to his previous hyper-stylised efforts (‘A Bigger Splash’ and ‘I Am Love’) but the film is equally as stunning. “Sensuality” is the big word here, and every frame practically drips with desire and romantic tension.

Of course, this would not be possible without compelling leads, and it would be hard to argue that anyone could have embodied these roles better than Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Chalamet is mind-blowing — in the devastating final shot, Elio is so emotionally transparent, you can practically see him go through the five stages of grief as he comes to terms with his relationship with Oliver. Armie Hammer is as charismatic and charming as you would expect from someone who is built like a Greek god, but also brings a subtle complexity that was never apparent in Andre Aciman’s novel. The film also showcases a quietly triumphant performance from Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father. (The talk he has with Elio at the film’s emotional climax is a masterclass in great parenting.) More striking than anything, is the fact that there is no antagonistic force trying to prevent Elio and Oliver from getting together. They’re their own worst enemy, too afraid to act on their desires for fear of rejection — but like all great love stories, their relationship unfolds naturally and beautifully.

I’m certain not everyone will have such a visceral reaction to the film as I did, but it speaks to the power of cinema that a little film about first love can provoke such strong emotions from people. Though judging from what I’ve seen and read over the past 10 months, Luca Guadagnino has made something really special. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is a sun-soaked masterpiece, and it will stay with me forever.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ will be released in the US on the 24th November 2017, and in the UK on the 27th October 2017. Tweet me your thoughts at @muchadocinema or @yorgosianthimos, or comment below! You can read the rest of our London Film Festival coverage here

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