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Call Me By Your Name

by on January 19, 2018
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“Call Me By Your Name” is both a typical, and decidedly atypical, film. It’s a summer-of-love kind of story. It’s a whimsical romance story where the protagonists wander around chatting about nothing in particular, saying a whole lot as they do. It’s a gay romance.

None of those types of film are even particularly unusual, but somehow “Call Me By Your Name” mixes them, and the alchemy that results feels unique. It’s a summer-of-love story between two men (at least one of whom also dallies with women. And it’s a gay romance where the two men are not defined by their gayness.

Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is a happy young Jew living in Italy with his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amara Casar). His father is a professor, and takes on a handsome graduate student named Oliver (Armie Hammer). Soon, a friendship is struck, then the two begin looking at each other somewhat differently.

And that’s the film. There is no manufactured tension, race-against-time climax or political pressures. The film is about the romance and its fallout, not about the politics behind being gay. The characters never express how different they feel than the rest of the world, nor does the film go out of its way to make them feel unwelcome. And that’s just fine.

Director Luca Guadagnino takes a leisurely pace, lingering on scenes in ponds and lakes where the guys swim, the countryside and towns where they walk and bike, and rest of the lush Italian scenery in which they interact. It feels like you are there experiencing it with them, and doesn’t feel forced or trite.

“Name” is set in the 1980s, and most films would take advantage of the opportunity to skewer that decade’s sillier rituals. But Guadagnino again chooses subtlety over theatrics, and there are no outlandish hair styles or no outrageous fashions or ridiculous shots of Nancy Reagan or the Berlin Wall or Ryan White. Our only real indication that it is the 80s are a few musical cues and the occasional displays of technology.

The acting is uniformly terrific. Hammer and Chalamet share terrific, albeit at times awkward, chemistry. Of course, this is by design, and the film is only better for it. They are free to let their hair down, and they do so freely.

But the real gem of the film is Stuhlbarg, who plays his character as a typical liberal, if that designation is possible with a complete lack of politics. He is a good, loving father and husband and the plot is not predicated on him discovering the romance between his son and his protege.

“Name” isn’t a searing portrait of forbidden love, it’s not a movie about hiding who you are. It’s about two people discovering who they are in a moment, and being the best version of themselves within that moment.

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