Yes, Call My By Your Name is good. Very, very good.
I went in with elevated expectations and a cynical Cinema Studies attitude, but I was completely moved by it. Luca Gaudagnino has made quite the film, and both Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are fantastic in it. Even with some of my previously stated reservations about Hammer, his performance felt honest and unpretentious, and he was able to hold his own against a particularly noteworthy Chalamet. If this is his path to super stardom (as I suspect it will be), so be it.
The film’s journey from the page to the screen involved a surprising number of cooks, but the finished product feels like a singular vision. This is first love in all of its potency, and set in a present tense 1983 that nonetheless feels immediate and timeless. It exists in a vacuum the way all first loves do, and the cinematography, acting, score, and direction all lend to the creation of a very personal universe filled to the brim with art and education and beauty.
(OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD: Films like this make me long for the pre-digital era, when our attention spans weren’t quite so fragmented and we were all present and in the moment. It made me long for a love capable of surprise and unburdened by expectation. It also reminds me of one of the first crushes I had while on vacation in high school. The heightened desire and sweaty summer nights and just the potency of so much possibility. The film captures all of that brilliantly.)
And although much has been made of the film as a “gay film,” I actually feel what is quite revelatory about it is that sexuality is treated more as a spectrum than a concrete identity. All the characters treat love and desire as a gift that can occur between any two individuals regardless of gender or orientation, and so Emilio and Oliver are never required to define themselves to each other or their community.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a very queer film with overt expressions of sexual desire. But whereas many queer films get tied up in identity politics or feel the responsibility to argue for the right to express queer love openly, the film situates everything within a very particular connection between two people that helps to remove some of those representational burdens. It reminds me a lot of Carol in that it is very much about the possibility of love occurring in unexpected places, and being open to the transformative potential of that love. I didn’t walk away from the film assuming that either character was necessarily gay, but that both men recognized a profound desire in (and connection to) each other and allowed it to be a gift. I believe that there will be many straight-identified individuals who will see themselves reflected here. Maybe, at one point in their life, they felt desire for someone of the same sex, or maybe this will remind them of their first heterosexual crush. At a time when administrations are invested in controlling strict definitions of identity and desire, films like Call Me By Your Name really expose the complexity and boundless joy that can come with human desire unshackled by expectation or fear. Either way, the intoxication of that first connection is real and vivid and speaks to something universal that makes this film so singular.
The soundtrack is also pretty fantastic, with Sufjan Stevens and Giorgio Moroder and The Psychedelic Furs from the infamous dance sequence. Let’s not pretend I don’t already have a pre-order on the blue vinyl pressing coming out in January, okay?
And without spoiling anything, the film leaves two of its most powerful moments for the end. One is a conversation between two characters that feels like cinematic catharsis and an acknowledgement of decades of repressed same sex desire in film. Again, a moment where love is seen as transcendent and special and to be celebrated in unexpected places. The other is a static shot that ends the film, and one that should hopefully earn Chalamet an award. And both left me very emotional as I exited the theatre.
So see Call Me By Your Name! It’s worth the wait, and definitely one of the best films of the year. Just prepare yourself to be moved. My day was mostly a write-off because of it.