Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

In Review: Call Me By Your Name

Director: Luca Guadagnino

When André Aciman wrote the novel Call Me By Your Name in 2007, he didn’t have the medium of film to help show how a single glance or pause can lay the heart bare in a way that written prose can’t. ‘I couldn’t write silence,’ he said. And, after watching this adaptation, he stated that the film had captured the spirit of the novel in ways he could never have anticipated.

This heady, enthralling work from director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash), hangs on moments like these. We spend a summer ‘somewhere in Northern Italy’ with the Perlmans: a liberal American family who while away their days by swimming, cycling, reading and, in the case of 17 year old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), transcribing music. Every summer, Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology, invites a student to spend the summer with them. This year, the student is Armie Hammer’s Oliver: a tall, handsome and somewhat self-assured preppy American in his mid-twenties.

As the two young men spend more time together, they grow closer and eventually admit their feelings for one another. ‘Why are you telling me this?’ says Oliver as he deciphers Elio’s confession. ‘Because I wanted you to know,’ is the stark reply. And so, under the nose of Elio’s parents, their love affair begins. The power and emotion of the film are heightened because as we watch them, we know that eventually, Oliver will have to leave.

The acting is outstanding. The film hinges on the authenticity of the relationship between the two leads. Their characters’ contrasting experiences and personalities could easily halt the believability of their romance. That isn’t the case here. Hammer and Chalamet are an excellent match - one can imagine Guadagnino smiling to himself when screen testing these two together.

There are two moments in this film that set it on a different plain to most. The first is a speech from the ubiquitous Stuhlbarg (he’s in 3 best picture nominated films this year alone). If he hasn’t already established himself as one of the finest actors around, this will do the job. The tenderness and wisdom of his words are remarkable as he muses on the importance of feeling the pain that love can bring. The second is the final shot of the film. It is astounding how much Chalamet is able to convey at this moment: the past, present and future etched on his face. Add this to Sufjan Stevens’ beautiful soundtrack, and the sense of nostalgia becomes profound.

Very occasionally, some films are able to tap into a feeling within us all, one that unites us through its memory but also isolates us through how personal and painful it was. Call Me By Your Name’s ability to do this leaves us reeling but also knowing that unlocking these feelings is bittersweet: going through it helped us become the person we are. That’s storytelling of the highest order. TS