Call Me by Your Name is hot. Yes, the performances are at times breathtaking, the script is measured and moving, and both score and cinematography are masterful. The story of the relationship between American 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) – who during the summer resides with his mother and father in a dreamy Italian villa – and Oliver (Armie Hammer), his father’s research assistant, is filled with complex notions of nostalgia and desire, of sexual awakening and the difference between confidence and fearlessness, and it explores ideas about the relationship between our identities as individuals and as sexual beings. It is, in short, everything an award-winning romantic drama should be – but it’s also incredibly hot, and honestly, that’s why it’s beautiful.
Director Luca Guadagnino has managed to achieve something so near to impossible in the final instalment of his loose “Desire trilogy” that the notion of this romance being judged solely on its LGBTQ representation or a beautiful portrait of an Italian summer shrink away; Guadignino has taken André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name and extracted, curated and captured real desire on film. Not romance; not fairytale giddiness or brutal irresistibility; not a fantasy. He has tasked himself with putting down a moment in time and asked what of pure blissful desire could successfully be experienced on film. It’s as rare and precious to find on screen as in life, and every beat of this film serves the reality of what a truly life-changing sexual relationship might be.
Through a relationship both romantic and exquisite, and sometimes openly silly and excruciating, Call Me by Your Name is marked by its interest in the honouring of feelings. Elio’s parents, in part his guardians and in part his enablers, are not barriers to his desires any more than they are a constant reminder that he owes it to himself to ensure his decisions make him happy; their respect for their son and his autonomy are a reminder that Oliver’s decisions are not more important than Elio’s. Oliver is outgoing and flirtatious, intelligent and supremely confident and, simply, is built like Armie Hammer. Elio, on the other hand, is younger, talented and smart – but easily embarrassed, more awkward in his body. Despite this, the guardian angels of his supportive parents keep in mind that the two potential lovers are on an equal footing, as valued partners in a conversation, and their sexual relationship is respectful and moving in ways that might have been lost without this understanding. And in fact much of Elio’s time in Crema is spent with the adorable Marzia, whom we are reminded late in the game is not simply a plot function or obstacle, but another autonomous complex human, capable of mutually entering into whatever kind of relationships she wants. By treating each characters’ personal qualities with equal respect, Guadignino is exploring the rare moments in time when very different people connect in the most intimate ways, and in making themselves vulnerable can exchange more about themselves than a name.
Call Me by Your Name is concerned with validation of its central characters’ desire in a way that is vitally important to the success of its love story and to the communities it incidentally represents. Within mainstream media, there are far too few features which are concerned with representing complex and moving relationships between two gay characters, but even fewer that insist the LGBTQ community are given, or indeed allowed, a reprieve from shame. Another of this year’s stellar movies, Moonlight, dealt with the brutality and opposition gay men often experience within their own communities, but refused to buy in to the notion that gay lives and relationships are inherently tragic.
In the same vein, Call Me by Your Name is concerned with the apparently minor question of what desire is made of, and how any young adults deal with their ever-evolving relationship to sex and sexual partners. There is, of course, a clear roadblock in the relationship: Oliver is Elio’s father’s assistant. But though there is the clear acknowledgement that to start up a sexual relationship with your employer’s son is unprofessional, and the film does touch on the difference between their ages and experience, the suggestion of sheer homophobia as a stumbling block is left at the far end of the table. Meanwhile, Elio and Oliver’s shared discussion over the degrees to which they embrace their “Jewishness” – another area of interest for a story that situates two gay American Jewish men within a rural Catholic society – hints at Elio’s developing relationship with concepts of “discretion” in his life.
Guadagnino resists creating a privileged fantasy world where all is easy, but at the same time is thankfully unwilling to sacrifice the prolonged moment of bliss Elio and Oliver inhabit for the sake of a single flutter of shame or disapproval – something non-hetero audiences more than deserve once in a while. Here, desire is real and valuable between any two adults; love is not a prescribed decades-long quest for a nuclear family; sex can be moving, or passionate, or funny; and these experiences all have their own value. Where many of the top films of this year have revelled in over-saturation, Call Me by Your Name is about the strength of gentleness, the surprising power of something truly beautiful.
N.B. As our site is UK based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas in the UK in 2017.
So to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 10…
20th – LADY MACBETH
19th – JACKIE
18th – LOGAN
17th – O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
16th – PADDINGTON 2
15th – A GHOST STORY
14th – THE BIG SICK
13th – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
12th – BLADE RUNNER 2049
11th – THOR: RAGNAROK
10th – THE DEATH OF STALIN
9th – CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Stay tuned each and every day for the remainder of 2017 to read more on our Top 10 films of 2017!