CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017, Luca Guadagnino)
The characters speak three languages throughout, but for a good stretch of this movie, they don’t even need to say anything. Guadagnino’s intelligent, beautiful direction says everything. You can start with the shoes. When Oliver shows up, Elio walks around in loafers every day. Oliver wears high-top Converse. After a particularly close shot of Elio’s POV of those sneakers, we soon see Elio wearing his own high-top Chucks… and eventually it’s Oliver in loafers. Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.
The blocking and composition is also evocative and sensual — Guadagnino manages to fit several characters in a frame without cramming. One clever shot of Hammer and Stuhlbarg researching in the library also shows Chalamet in the mirror. Elio is always watching Oliver, and the camera — especially in the first act — rarely shows one without the other. Unless, that is, it drifts up into a tree to show some ripening fruit.
That fruit, by the way, is one of the few things Guadagnino lays on a little thick. There’s enough natural beauty in the North Italian countryside pictured here that he doesn’t need to go overboard with so many metaphors. Peaches being picked is one thing; peaches being violated is another. There’s also a few lines in Ivory’s script I wish had been excised. Guadagnino needs to trust his own brilliant direction and leave the clunky lines alone. That said, perhaps the film’s best scene is a tender father-son conversation that serves as a career highlight for the magnificently accomplished Stuhlbarg, outdoing himself here with a monologue that’s wise, heartfelt, earnest, probing, and never condescending. It’s hard to imagine not being deeply moved by it.
As great as Stuhlbarg is (and, conversely, as… adequate as Hammer is), the standout is Timothée Chalamet, who crashes into this thing like a blazing comet from outer space. It’s a breakthrough as show-stopping as DiCaprio in ROMEO + JULIET, Farrell in TIGERLAND, or Exarchopoulos in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR. He is 17 years old through and through, but he doesn’t play brooding or sullen. He’s passionate but reticent, smart but humble, and self-aware of his awkwardness and boundless energy. He’s asked to both display and hide nearly every emotion imaginable, and you will never catch him faking it. What a remarkable performance. And fortunately for him, Guadagnino has mounted a feature worthy of this star-making turn: it has a dozen of the most memorable shots of the year, perhaps the best of which is at a train station. Oliver is somewhere inside, unseen by Elio, whom we only see the back of, as the train is yanked away from us deep into the screen and beyond, hurtling faster and faster away from Elio’s motionless body. Then an arm reaches out to say goodbye, but it’s a different man, to a different loved one. There are so many people in the world, and they are going through so many different things all at the same time, often in the same place.