Call Me By Your Name: A Masterclass in Cinematic Sensuality


Call Me by Your Name is a perfect example of a well-paced film that showcases its performers’ full acting potential.

By Bailey Hosfelt 

Call Me by Your Name is a perfect example of a well-paced film that showcases its performers’ full acting potential. (Courtesy of Twitter).

There is something about a film set over the course of a summer. Add picturesque Northern Italy, Armie Hammer wearing short shorts and heartache accompanied by a gut-wrenching Sufjan Stevens song into the equation, and I am sold.

Adapted from the 2007 novel bearing the same title, Call Me by Your Name follows 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and graduate student turned houseguest Oliver (Hammer) over the course of six sun-soaked weeks in 1983.

The two coexist at the Perlman family villa: Oliver assists Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) –an academic specializing in Greco-Roman culture – with his research while Elio reads voraciously, transcribes piano music, basks in the beautiful boredom of vacation and occasionally shows Oliver around a rather thinned-out town.

It is in scenes where the two characters ride around on bikes that their emotional connection truly becomes apparent.

When Elio takes Oliver to his favorite place, a secluded lake with fresh water runoff from a nearby mountain, he not only introduces someone else to new territory, but also dips a toe into a new part of himself as well. Here we see the two gravitate to each other in a way that is palpable and no longer strictly platonic.

Filled with an abundant amount of shirtlessness and inactivity, Elio and Oliver spend much of their time together, though not doing or saying much.

The pacing is slow but deliberate, the action subdued but dramatic. It is as if director Luca Guadagnino is telling his audience to sit tight because something is brewing and the buildup will only bolster the theatrics of the breakdown.

In the final third of the film, Elio’s entrapment in his own mind and body becomes increasingly evident. His path to sexual discovery is a complicated one. Compartmentalized and then released, satisfying yet soul-crushing.

The precision of Call Me by Your Name’s cinematic structure is as impeccable as the Bach cantatas Chalamet’s character plays on piano. Just like the boy’s intelligent ability to alter the music and improvise, Guadagnino serves as the film’s astute maestro, guiding his actors to show rather than tell. They do just that.

Looks of longing and lust followed by glimpses into intimate encounters exemplify the emotional vulnerability, seductive nature and prolific romanticism of the film.

Scenes in which Elio and Oliver engage in sexual acts are neither presented in a declaratory nor detailed manner. More often than not, the scenes tastefully fade out and the audience is left to decide the specifics. After all, their relationship is happening behind closed doors.

The artistic sensitivity and articulation of Call Me by Your Name is among the best of not only this Oscar season, but cinema as a whole.

Every character pushes his or her counterpart to take it to the next level, the final monologue Mr. Perlman gives to his son serving as a prime example. In this conversation, each actor occupies space on the couch: Stuhlbag, a seasoned performer with a sense of paternal guidance on one side and Chalamet, a remarkable newcomer with the embodiment of raw adolescence, on the other.

There is not one element of Call Me by Your Name without tact. From its understated score and lush scenery to piercing cinematography and a patient script, the film stands out as an absolute original. Even the font and color scheme of the end credits align with the all-consuming atmosphere Guadagnino created.

Call Me by Your Name is a decadent time capsule of Elio and Oliver’s connection – a flicker followed by the flood.

The film will break your heart, but perhaps that is what makes it even more important.