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The Beautiful and Visual Story That is “Call Me By Your Name”

By Amy Huynh

The adapted screenplay of André Aciman’s 2007 novel “Call Me By Your Name” is a beautiful film that brings to life the vulnerability and emotions that come from a blossoming first love. Italian director Luca Guadagnino sets the movie in the summer of 1983 in a Northern Italian villa and highlights the intimacy and attraction between 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and 24-year-old graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) as they share a delicate, heart-wrenching relationship that is a true celebration of love.

“Call Me By Your Name” deserves all of its critical acclaim, especially for its beautiful scenes and transitions, which required careful attention to detail and previsualization to create. Since its release in November 2017, the film has received praise for its performances, screenplay, and direction including two Gotham Awards, three nominations for the 75th Golden Globe Awards, and possible Oscar bids.

The gorgeous setting, standout performances from Chalamet and Hammer, and natural dialogue combine to create a film that has earned its hype. Guadagnino creates a natural yet surreal atmosphere in the movie with the understated precision of his direction. Throughout the film, Elio and Oliver dance around the subject of their feelings for one another as they drop subtle hints of affection but are too coy to reveal such  thoughts. The ease of the characters’ relationship shows an acceptance of their bisexuality that is not typically shown in films. Guadagnino focuses more on the interaction between the two without the social limitations typically faced by same-sex couples.

There is an enduring sexual tension between the two that is intensified as the camera often lingers on long takes of the beautiful northern Italian landscapes. In one scene, as Elio and Oliver ride away on their bicycles together, the screen focuses on the nature they are surrounded by and rests on the cloudless sky and the wild grass surrounding the trail until they are no longer visible. From Oliver massaging Elio’s back during a volleyball game to Elio gazing at Oliver at a dance party, the camera captures their growing affections.

Noticeably, the level of detail in the movie allows Elio’s house to feel very much alive with the personalities of the whole Perlman family. From using only books published before 1983 to furniture from set decorator Violante Visconti di Modrone’s own home, the Perlman house undeniably belongs to the academic American family in July 1983. Carefully curated magazine stands and political billboards further define the local Italian setting. In an effort to do the novel justice, Guadagnino hired a landscape designer to create the ripe orchard garden, which the house he rented originally lacked. Whether the characters are indoors or outdoors, it is clear that the Italian countryside is an undeniably influential element in their lifestyles.

Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom manages to skillfully soften the artificial light within the frame in a way that is both mesmerizing and realistic to watch. “Call Me By Your Name” is filled with lucid shots of the characters, especially in scenes where Elio is forced to be vulnerable to his feelings of attraction as he gazes up to a towering Oliver. Not only does the camera utilize many close-ups on Elio’s face as he goes through emotions of angst, lust,and joy, but the camera also lingers on pieces of clothing such as Elio and Oliver’s bright swimsuits and button-down shirts.

Costume designer Giulia Piersanti created the outfits to reflect the genuineness and realism of the 1980s period while abiding to the aesthetic of this dreamy Italian summer heat. This is important to the story because it creates an easygoing, open sensuality that Aciman’s novel and James Ivory’s screenplay emphasize. The gentle, pastel color palette that Piersanti creates is important in showing how they interact with each other. Elio’s father and mother (Amira  Casar) tend to blend in with the colors of the surroundings which puts the emphasis on the colorful interaction between Elio and Oliver.

The intense dialogue-free ending of the film forces the audience into Elio’s emotionally transparent eyes and to see his struggle to move on from Oliver. It is an internal conflict for the audience to decide whether they want to look away from Chalamet’s tearful vulnerability or to accept Stuhlbarg’s indelible monologue  and embrace all of this pain and sorrow. Suddenly, the closing credits play and — like a first love — the audience hopes the end never comes.