Monday, February 26, 2018

The Beauty of Call Me By Your Name [Guest Poster: Chloe]

While I tend to be more passionate about television as a medium for storytelling, occasionally I find a film that I am so excited and inspired by, that it is all I can think about for weeks. Call Me By Your Name is one of those films. It is a beautiful and nuanced bildungsroman that is just as endearingly romantic as it is heartbreaking. It is the type of film that demands repeat viewings, in-depth discussions, and will leave one feeling surprisingly hopeful and changed.

Before one even examines the film on a narrative level, the location, music and cinematography are enough to qualify it as great. The small Italian city of Crema is the ideal location for the film, with its cobblestone streets and beautifully landscaped country sides. Having the right location is imperative, because it is as much a vehicle for telling Elio and Oliver’s story as the dialogue. While I have not seen any of Luca Guadagnino’s previous films, I understand his unique style, based on the cinematography of CMBYN alone. He utilizes wide, expansive shots and uses the camera as a window into Elio’s world without it ever becoming part of that world. While some filmmakers use the camera to establish first person point of view or treat the camera like a narrator, Guadagnino doesn’t do either. We are invited into Elio and Oliver’s worlds, but only from a distance. We feel immersed in their story on a narrative level, but never a cinematic one. It is through his use of the camera that Guadagnino is able to establish a consistent tone.

Another way that the film establishes itself tonally is through language. It is an Italian film with French influences, and utilizes Italian and French throughout as a vital storytelling component. Even the musical interludes in the film are of both French and Italian origins. Music then becomes an integral part of the storytelling process as well. Sufjan Stevens’ original songs “Mystery of Love” and “Visions of Gideon” are lyrically and narratively compelling on their own, but become especially important during the scenes in which they are played. When the lyrics “I have loved you for the last time” play while Elio cries in front of the fire, it serves as both a heartbreaking reminder of Elio’s state of mind after his phone call with Oliver, but also as a moment of emotional catharsis for him and the audience. While we can already see the pain, resignation, and eventual acceptance written on Elio’s face, the song emotionally elevates the moment even further. It is easily one of the best moments of a film filled with beautiful and significant moments.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Call Me By Your Name is the way that the it establishes its narrative. In most stories, narrative exists through conflict and has rising action that leads to some type of emotional climax and resolution. While CMBYN has some of that, for the most part the film is made up of moments that are either equally significant or equally inconsequential. The film is fundamentally about a moment in Elio’s life where he is growing up, figuring his life out, and falling in love. It is merely a snapshot of his entire existence. So while his relationship with Oliver is beautiful, loving, passionate and significant, it is just one of many importance aspects of Elio’s young life. We, as an audience, are only seeing a glimpse of his life and all its complexities. It is for that reason that the film places no additional importance on any one scene. Watching Oliver dance to “Love My Way” is treated with as much emotional significance as Oliver and Elio’s first kiss, or the first time they sleep together. Even the final scenes of the movie feel like they are of equal importance. While Mr. Perlman’s speech to Elio in the film’s final minutes seems to resonate more with an audience because of what he is saying, the film maintains a consistent tone. If anything, it is what makes the scene feel even more powerful. It is evident that this isn’t an average conversation between father and son, but within the context of the film, it might as well be. It is a conversation about love and acceptance, but it is also like any other conversation Mr. Perlman has with Elio throughout the film. He is consistently supportive and open, and the scene at the end only makes it more apparent.

The film treats Oliver and Elio’s relationship as profound without commenting on its long-term significance for both characters. It is evident that both men will be eternally changed by the love that they have shared. But ultimately, even Mr. Perlman stresses that Oliver and Elio’s relationship was “everything and nothing.” Their relationship was meaningful and passionate for the brief moments that it existed, but would not have worked in any other moment in time (even if we all wish that it could have). It is important that we as an audience understand that, and the final scenes serve to help us understand. The ultimate impact that Mr. Perlman’s speech and Elio’s scene in front of the fire have on us is one of catharsis. They help us grapple with the significance of Elio and Oliver’s relationship at the same time the characters do. It ultimately sends the somewhat clich├ęd but effective message that “it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” The film effectively captures that rare and fleeting feeling of being in love, and everything that happens when it falls apart. It leaves us feeling sad but ultimately fulfilled with how everything turns out.

While the story itself is very compelling, what really sells CMBYN as a great movie is Timothee Chalamet’s performance as Elio. It is rare to see in someone so young, but Chalamet has instincts that you would expect from a person with a lifetime of acting experience. Chalamet manages to convince us that he has that experience through his hard work and raw talent. He captures every nuance of Elio’s internal struggle, primarily with his eyes and other facial expressions. Even if you have not read the book the film is based on, you understand exactly how Elio is feeling (be it frustration, disgust, lust, or pain) by even the slightest changes in his eyes. It is evident that going into the filming process, Chalamet not only had a firm grasp of who Elio was as a character but also used his own interpretation and discretion to make the performance more layered. Chalamet commits himself so fully to the role that you almost forget that Elio isn’t a real person. It is refreshing to see a performer who is so dedicated to their work that it ultimately enhances the entire viewing experience. Chalamet turns what would have been a decent movie into a great one by bringing his best work to every scene.

Ultimately, Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful exploration of love, longing, and adventure during a single Italian summer. The film never tries to be anything more than that, which is why it works so well. It does not always feel particularly profound (especially with some of its dialogue) but it also does not have to be in order to still be enjoyable. When the film slightly struggles from a slower pace in the first hour, it makes up for it with astounding visuals and timely music. It is a remarkable film that is bound to emotionally resonate with me for a long time to come.


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