Nominated for four Oscars including Best Actor, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Call Me By Your Name is a very European film. Set in northern Italy, it is a multicultural, multilingual film. The characters regularly switch from English to Italian to French without a blink. They even throw in a little bit a German for good measure. For us monolingual Americans, subtitles keep us in the loop. As I watched this movie, I was embarrassed for myself and for all of us who consider ourselves educated and yet are only conversant in our own native language. I made a mental note to dig out my Rosetta Stone program to brush up on my pitiful Italian.
It is also a summer film. Summers in Italy are hot—even in the north—and people dress accordingly. The heat in this film is palpable, even in February when I saw it. Lush greenery, both cultivated and wild, giant villa windows opened wide with slatted blinds to mitigate the sun’s searing rays, insects buzzing in the background, occasionally lighting on shoulders, stark contrasts between light and shade, warm evenings when outdoor activities require no more clothing than daytime ones. Bare feet, bare shoulders, bare knees and welcome breezes from the movement of bicycles. Pools, rivers, boats, lakes, fountains, trees heavy with peaches and apricots. Cerulean skies. Life outdoors. Sun-drenched. Lovely.
And most importantly, it is a romance. Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the son of intellectual parents who take in a graduate student each summer to study and help with research, is 17. When Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives as this summer’s intern, feelings are awakened that Elio can’t deny. When it becomes clear that Oliver feels it too, a relationship develops that is both emotional and physical and, for Elio, life-altering.
The film activates the senses with piano music that is fitting and fabulous as it underscores the beauty of the villa, the village and the Italian countryside. Other pieces, meant I’m sure to accentuate the youthfulness that is at the center of this story, were jarring to me, removing me from the world being created on screen rather than luring me further into it. Probably just showing my age here.
Timothée Chalamet is actually 21, but he doesn’t look a day over 17. The camera loves him. His Elio is a reticent, talented young man, one who spends long afternoons reading books and transcribing music, so there are extended periods of screen time where Elio is alone, thinking, exploring, wondering—with the camera in close-up waiting to pick up any subtlety of expression. Chalamet doesn’t disappoint and creates a character whose adolescent angst comes through not in his words, but in his face, in the angle of his head, in the slouch in his shoulders. His words work, instead, to cover up what he is feeling, but we know what’s there because we have seen it in his eyes, in his demeanor, in his gait. Chalamet is deserving of his nomination. But I’m not sure if he is a really good actor or if he is still just an uninhibited theater kid, so I don’t think he’s worthy of the award itself—not yet. If he’s the real deal, his turn will come.
There is so much about this film that is beautiful and sensory and true. But there is a deal-breaker for me.
For one thing, he is too old. At 31 he can’t pull off 24. This is not a film about a predator or a pedophile or a dirty old man. This is a love story—that much is very clear. But it was hard for me to accept that Hammer’s Oliver didn’t have ulterior motives. More importantly, I was always aware that Hammer was acting on that screen. Lines he delivered would ring false to me, like when you ask kids in class to read “with expression.” Even with everything about this film that works, this casting mistake, for me, makes a Best Picture Oscar impossible.
One last thing. Michael Stuhlbarg. (Elio’s father.) My friend Pete pointed out to me that he is in three, THREE movies nominated for Best Picture this year—this one, The Post and The Shape of Water. Movie people bestowed upon Stuhlbarg the 2018 John C. Reilly Award named after the supporting actor who appeared in Chicago, The Hours and The Gangs of New York, all nominated for Best Picture in 2003. (Chicago won.) As a classic film buff, I’d prefer to call it the Thomas Mitchell Award after the supporting actor who appeared in Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach, all nominated for Best Picture in 1940. (GWTW won. Mitchell himself won the Best Supporting Actor for his role as Doc Boone in Stagecoach. ) Only thirteen actors in the history of film have qualified for this unofficial honor. Just an FYI. Amaze your friends.
And one more last thing. Though there are nine Best Picture nominations, I have only reviewed eight of them. The last one, Get Out, is supposed to be really scary and so I’m going to skip it. I prefer a good night’s sleep, thank you very much.
But I’m still watching nominated films and will be until the big night. Look for one more multi-film wrap-up review and then the BIG PREDICTION POST sometime before the awards show begins on Sunday night.