CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017) – Dir. Luca Guadagnino (I AM LOVE; A BIGGER SPLASH). Starring Armie Hammer (THE SOCIAL NETWORK), Timothée Chalamet (LADY BIRD), Michael Stuhlbarg (A SERIOUS MAN; STEVE JOBS).
I just got out of this movie and drove home to write this. The goal here is simple – let me tell you why I think this movie is spectacular. Beyond the obvious — the pure passion, the nuanced and painfully real acting, the heartbreak of goodbyes, the perfect structure, the lack of a wasted beat, the story itself.
**** WARNING: light spoilers. Maybe see the film before you read this. ****
1.) I noticed that the themes of antiquity so strongly anchor and pervade the film but they are also kind of just the backdrop of the film. This sort of paradoxical setup is exactly the point, in my opinion. As much as Stuhlbarg and Hammer study these statues in an academic sense, our studies are not, as Chalamet says, the “things that matter.” But the real thing is that, to the creators of these statues — who intended them to be expressions of sensuality and desire — and their contemporaries, the statues were part of these “things that matter.”
They weren’t living for history, they were living for themselves.
And given the relatively higher levels of suppression of desire present now as compared to in antiquity, maybe modern society could learn something from these long-dead people. The handshake scene depicted in the scene still at the top of this post represents that to me, the relevance of those feelings in the modern day. Human nature has not changed, but the way we deal with it has.
2.) The infrared flashbacks, representing the replaying memories inside Chalamet’s eyelids. Just a brilliant visual choice. Wow. The most striking visualization of memory since THE LOST CITY OF Z — when, if my memory serves me right, a character is on a train looking out the windows and then in a graphic match, we cut to a room in the old house and we experience the room swiping by as if we were on a train. Then it cuts back to the train.
3.) Suppression of identity manifests itself in many ways in the film, one that stuck out was Chalamet’s Star of David necklace. At one point his mom covers it with her hand. We all conceal.
4.) The framing. Guadagnino demonstrates mastery when it comes to exerting an unflinching boldness even in often VERY still and creeping frames. He knows where to focus for the truth to stand naked (no pun intended) in front of us. He doesn’t dress anything up or hit us over the head, he knows exactly where our eyes need to be in each moment. The best way I can further articulate this skill is, when he’s building the tension between Hammer and Chalamet, he doesn’t need to use close-ups or overly on-the-nose framings to get the tension across. The tension is inherent to the situations present by the narrative, and we feel that strongly.
The tension is actually stronger in a more static frame than in close-ups or something like that, because we as an audience are forced to create that ourselves. We are inferring that and shouting in our minds, “is anyone else seeing this!?” In this way, Guadagnino gifts us a chance to participate in the developing relationship.
Further example of this: the tension between the couple in Ingmar Bergman’s SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE plays out in a standardly-framed static shot. No close-ups, OTS’s, etc:
Another moment of subtle subtext is when Chalamet is with his female love interest. Chalamet asks if she hides any of herself when she’s with him. Which is so powerful because we know he’s hiding things too. And it’s heartbreaking when she says she does because she’s worried he’ll let her down. Because we know he will, but not in the way that she expects.
5.) The floating, ethereal POV shots on bikes and in cars, reminiscent of select shots from THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING.
6.) At some points the frame is just straight up out of focus. On purpose. And it works magnificently. Or Guadagnino will delay pulling focus in an intimate moment for a few seconds and then dial it in.
7.) Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue to Chalamet… floored me. “I envy you.” The themes of the fleetingness of youth, regret, passion, taking ownership of the way you live your life. Not wasting time. Not suppressing feelings. Not numbing yourself to the bad because it can end up numbing you to the good. The best monologue since “I thought there would be more” in BOYHOOD. And everyone knows how I feel about that.
Uh, yeah. This film is remarkable. I’m done.