The novel Call Me By Your Name is a deliberately paced, murky tread through memory. It condensates events and conversations to fill an eternal moment in the coming-of-age of Elio, a young man falling in love for the first time. Its sensual language and cerebral longing make it an enjoyable read, to be sure, but its tone as a memory, looking back from a future era, mute the people, places, and colors of the world André Aciman paints for us.
The film Call Me By Your Name is anything but. The opening, youthful, exuberant, joyful piano chords of “Hallelujah Junction – 1st Movement” accompanying vibrant photos of rusted classical art snap us awake, into an invigorating contrast between young and old, observing a long-gone past with an audacious burst of life.
Timothée Chalamet is a marvel as Elio, a perfectly realized young man with all the naivete, self-hatred, bullishness, impulsiveness, and passivity of anyone on the brink of adulthood. He spends the summers in Italy with his parents, who host academics to assist with his father’s archaeological work. This fateful year, his family takes in Oliver (Armie Hammer), a sturdy, confident foil to the unpredictable Elio.
Italian summers must be very hot, because the two spend much of the film shirtless and somewhere between lounging around the shaded house and going swimming, a spark between the two grows into an undeniable passion and nearly obsessive romance. Elio and Oliver become inseparable and share profound intimacies. In one touching moment after making love, Oliver asks Elio to “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine,” as their bodies and hearts join together to become one.
The seasons change, and the summer must end. But Elio learns the painful lesson that love is more than being with the person you’ve found, but also growing from and taking on what you’ve learned from them. Elio’s father (played by the excellent character actor Michael Stuhlbarg) urges his son to find meaning and solace in having such a love at all.
In the film’s profoundly moving final shot, the fate of Elio’s future with Oliver is sealed; the camera lingers on the cyclone of emotions swirling on his face, as his parents and household help prepare a Hanukkah feast in the background. The tragic reality of young love, and being forced to sit with that feeling as the world goes on with or without you, is a difficult ending to leave us with, but it’s not so far from real life.
Call Me By Your Name‘s great triumph is this spectacular balance between quieter, solemn moments with the life-affirming joy of young love, bicycling down the cobbled streets of rural Italy. Just as the moods and desires of Elio fluctuate, grow, and mature through the film, the tonal shift from connection to introspection takes us on the very same journey. “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine,” and the two become one.