Call Me by Your Name review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I’m sure that the blunt awkwardness of Call Me By Your Name’s tale of coming to terms with sexuality presents a moving experience for those not comfortable in their own skin. It goes about its story of discovery in a manner that is thoughtful, passionate, and overflowing with as much emotion as it does sex of many kinds. There’s a fearlessness to its presentation that is sure to warm the different and shock the uncomfortable. And yet it still feels as though there’s a bit of a missing heart to its tale of love most complicated, despite some strong performances and great storytelling.
Based on the novel by André Aciman, the teenager Elio (Timothée Chalamet) finds himself having the most unorthodox summer of 1983. He lives with his Jewish family in Italy and their house has a new guest, the mysterious and charming Oliver (Armie Hammer). Though Elio is going through the familiar motions of a teenage boy, he finds himself particularly attracted to Oliver. Very attracted. So much so that he’s conflicted about these feelings which he isn’t sure are true or just a fascination. It’s frightening coming to terms with one's own sexuality, especially at such a fragile age of discovering yourself.
Elio’s summer is seen in small, sunny bits of relaxation while thoughts linger of more. Parties at the house are kept light and spread out, large enough for Elio to be alone with his thoughts or Oliver if he so chooses. Days in town are airy and warm, Elio and Oliver chatting in shorts and riding bikes about the streets before heading into the countryside. It’s a summer with the perfect atmosphere for getting lost in one’s thoughts when teenagers have one thing on their mind but no clear road to take towards that goal.
The pressure of choosing that path can be felt as the days go by. Elio is caught between his attraction to a girl his own age and the handsome and older Oliver. He takes his relationship with the girl to the next level, sneaking a session of lovemaking in an old building while the radio plays, because that just seems to be the norm for boys. Not so normal, he thinks, is being sexually attracted to Oliver, to the point where he is so confused and frustrated that he makes love to a peach. I can already hear the scoffing, conservative movie viewers squirming upon reading that last session. I’ll bet they wretch if I went further in explaining what Oliver will do with that peach once he discovers it. For as much this scenes seems like it could be saying something, it feels more like an assurance to let the audience know this isn’t going to be the most subtle of gay romances.
One of the strongest moments in the film features a conversation of connection between Elio and his father once dad makes the discovery of his son’s fluctuating sexuality. He not only accepts his desires but tries to go a step further and put things in perspective how life plays out to a degree that a certain form of love can only last for so long. There’s an encouragement to be yourself but it may be too late to find yourself when the man you’re in love with views romance as a game that places quick distances between players. This leads to perhaps one of the most haunting and sad endings, punctuated beautifully by the credits as life merely goes on when you don’t know yourself and fear you may have lost whatever it was you were meant to be. Though not as powerful as it could have been, it’s hard deny those performances and steady focus on how love comes in many forms and is never that easy to understand, even for a scholar such as Elio.