I don’t really know where to start with my praise for Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. I think maybe the end. Michael Stuhlbarg, who does not get showcased enough in films even despite his incredible work in the Coens’ A Serious Man, delivers what ended up being my favorite 5 minutes or so of any film I saw at Sundance this year. It is a monologue speech he delivers to his son, played by Timothée Chalamet, that seemed to be there just to let the viewer know that everything is going to be okay even if it might not feel like it right now. It is one of the most tender moments I can remember ever seeing on film and I won’t hold my breath for another film to top it because it will be awfully tough.
The fact that this comes near the end of the film is a very deft move from Guadagnino. If we’re being honest, though, it really isn’t surprising. If you’ve seen any of Guadagnino’s other films then you already know how skilled he is in the director’s chair. Last year’s A Bigger Splash was a criminally underseen work of art, I Am Love has Tilda Swinton speaking Italian, which she learned for the film, Melissa P. is, much like Call Me By Your Name, a very tender examination of a young person’s burgeoning sexuality, the list goes on. And that’s just films. He does a lot of other stuff too, such as direct opera (yes, freakin’ opera!). In this newest film Guadagnino really flexes his creative muscles and this film is obviously the culmination of all his work up to this point.
A little bit about the plot: a 17-year-old boy (Timothée Chalamet) is spending the summer in Italy with his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) and I’m-not-really-sure-what-she-does-but-she’s-very-smart mother (Amira Casar) when his father’s newest protégé (Armie Hammer), a strapping 24-year-old lad, shows up to do a 6 week independent study while staying with the family. The two young men fall in love and spend the 6 weeks in an amorous state of passion.
Honestly, I think it might be the best love story I’ve ever seen in a movie. There is a subtle humor to the script that is maintained the whole time. Every character is written in a way that they feel completely 3-dimensional even if they’re only in the film for a few minutes. The maid and the groundskeeper are just about the smallest roles in the film but I think I could tell you all about them just from what we got of them in there. And this authenticity even extends to Michael Stuhlbarg’s character despite the fact that he could seem like a caricature of an uppity intellectual if you only read his part on paper. It’s a credit to Stuhlbarg for bringing the humanness out of the character.
Speaking of credit to actors, everyone here deserves some. Really, though, without Timothée Chalamet’s career-maker of a performance you don’t have nearly as effective or affective of a film. Can we just talk about how talented this kid is? I mean his performance is already incredibly strong, but throw in the multiple languages he’s speaking? Color me impressed. I knew him a little bit from his episodes of Homeland but on that show it was a pretty small part and he was really irritating. The character he played, I mean, which really is also a compliment to his acting. With this film the audience sticks closely with him for a lot of the film so it’s the Chalamet show but rightfully so. Then there’s his desired partner, Armie Hammer. Stop the presses, everyone, because turns out the Lone Ranger, Mr. Winklevoss Twins himself can actually act. I was as surprised as anyone. I’m not saying Armie Hammer’s previous films were bad, he was in some decent ones. The problem has always been that I always thought I was watching Armie Hammer play this person or that person. This is the first time I’ve felt like he became the character.
A few other technical things that really impressed me with this film were the production design by Samuel Deshors, the cinematography from Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (who will also be shooting Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake), and a really moving score plus some original songs from Sufjan Stevens. Quite literally everything in this film comes together to tell the story of this summer for these two young men in a way that adds to it. I am so happy to have seen the film at Sundance while simultaneously sad that I will have to wait a few months before I can see it again. Luckily, though, Sony Pictures Classics picked the film up and they are a pretty marvelous distributor.
In short: see this film as soon as you’re able!