It's very possible that the nightmarish state of the world at the moment is causing me to simply be happy that movies exist at all, but I've been feeling pretty sunny toward most of this year's releases. (Cut to: Darkest Hour sweeping the Oscars). Call Me By Your Name is another very fine entry in this year's race, and given that I wasn't that wild about A Bigger Splash, I was pleased to see Luca Guadagnino come closer to fulfilling the promise he showed with I Am Love.
At the Q&A after my screening, Variety critic Peter Debruge commented that the movie doesn't deserve to be pigeonholed in the "gay movie" box, which struck me as both a problematic comment in general ("pigeonholing is only for movies like BPM!"), but also one that just misreads a lot of what the film does well. In the same way that Lady Bird brings out specifically feminine elements in its coming of age story, Call Me By Your Name is not just a romance that HAPPENS to be between two men, but one whose details just wouldn't make sense if one of the characters were female. One way the film does this effectively is by contrasting the relationships Elio and Oliver have with the young women in their lives with the bond they have with each other -- they are both perfectly happy to showcase, even flaunt, their heterosexual relationships in public, and talk openly about sex with women. But the relationship the two of them share is based on a fairly drawn-out push-and-pull where both of them seem to be testing the romantic waters with the other one, while not wanting each other to catch on too quickly for fear the attraction might not be reciprocal, and attempting to do much of this in public without letting the rest of the world know what's up. This movie is almost a direct response to those who felt like the men in Brokeback Mountain jumped too quickly into their relationship -- Call Me By Your Name really takes its time getting these guys to a place where they feel comfortable opening up to each other. (That said, the scene where they do essentially out themselves to one another feels reliant on quite a bit of very coded language -- I'm not sure I totally bought they both would understand what the other was talking about.)
There are also a lot of nice beats where the characters have to navigate their trepidation over being outed in subtle ways, and I liked that so many of these moments were played in a manner that suggests this is just something both of them have instinctively learned to do, rather than conscious attempts at covering. Details like Elio boasting at breakfast that he almost had sex (then quickly clarifying who with), Elio's attempt to conceal his dejection when his father asks Oliver to move to the front of the car, Oliver's response to the slideshow of statues with perfectly sculpted male bodies, Elio kissing everyone around the table but Oliver, Elio's reaction to his mom telling him how much Oliver likes him, Elio refusing to offer to go to town with Oliver but then secretly going anyway, and plenty of others, create a great portrait of the challenge two young men have in keeping their public profiles separate from their private lives.
It's also refreshing to see this fear and uneasiness operate in an environment where it doesn't genuinely seem like disaster is going to befall either man if they are uncovered. Elio's parents have their gay friends over to dinner, and I doubt Elio would think his parents would react poorly to him coming out. Whether or not they'd want him sleeping with his father's student might be a different story, but they're generally supportive of the two men spending so much time together. The central conflict in the story, then, becomes one of time -- the fact that this one summer they have together will inevitably end, and both are at such different places in their lives (despite not being separated by all that many years) that a future beyond that seems very uncertain. All of this builds to a finale that I found very moving, and which I assume will break a lot of hearts among audiences.
For a film that isn't directed with a ton of flash, I found a lot of Guadagnino and his cinematographer's framing and staging of shots to be quite elegant. The sequences in the city stage the characters against the architecture in some really pleasing ways, the camera moves and focus racks are sparingly but effectively used, and the shot at the train station is one of those beautifully crafted images that perfectly conveys the emotion of that moment through the visuals alone. I also found the music very pleasing -- the songs, the orchestral tracks, even Elio's piano contributions.
Although I think both lead actors (A-HEM!) are appealing in their roles, I can't say I think either gives a great-great performance, mostly because their characters are so taciturn, they most of the film underplaying everything. In fact, for the bulk of the movie I thought Chalamet would simply be a desperation nominee -- carried along simply by the popularity of his movie -- but then at the end he has a series of scenes (his beautifully played last scene with Hammer, his conversation with his dad, the phone call, his final reaction shot) that contribute to a lot of the film's emotional power, even though I still don't think he'd contend in a stronger Best Actor year. Stuhlbarg has the kind of role where you spend most of the film assuming a big scene has to be coming...and then he gets a beautifully written monologue that he just nails, that sums up a lot of what the movie is about. (It reminded me of a late-film monologue in another Ivory film: Denholm Elliott's words of wisdom to Helena Bonham Carter in A Room With a View).
We're going to be subjected to an endless amount of peach jokes at this year's award shows, right?