"Call Me By Your Name" is a testament to the fleetingness of time
“Call Me By Your Name” is about a great many things. Set over six weeks in the early 1980s, the warm romance from director Luca Guadagnino presents itself with only one antagonist: time.
Early in the film, graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) asks 17-year-old Elio (Timotheé Chalamet) what one does in the small town the pair find themselves in. Elio casually replies, “wait for Summer to end.” How he’d change his mind.
The slow burn of the romance perfectly reflects the Summer season the film takes place in, and Guadagnino has an incredible eye for both pace and blocking. Every shot is taken with care, and you never feel the 132-minute runtime. Just like Summer vacation: it doesn’t move quickly, but it’s gone before you know it.
It’s possible to not appreciate the brilliance of the film until the third act begins. That’s when things start to snap everything into focus. How quickly a perfect love can be lost, and how soon a flame can be snuffed out. There’s a prescient line early in the film, read in voiceover by Hammer: “the meaning of the river flowing is not that all things are changing so that we cannot encounter them twice, but that some things stay the same only by changing.”
Hammer is magnetic as the singular object of Chalamet’s desire in a variety of shorts that must be getting shorter as the film goes on. It’s a miracle the ground itself doesn’t shake when he enters the rustic Summer estate the Perlman's reside in (is this a Villa? Can I call this a Villa? I'm calling it a Villa). It’s his best turn since “The Social Network,” where he combines raw intensity with the same gift for humor we’ve seen time and again in projects like “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
That only serves to highlight another stupendous turn from Chalamet, who has revealed himself a rising star. Combined with a more enigmatic turn in “Lady Bird,” the freshly-turned 22 year old is having himself a hell of a year. His performance is extremely physical, contorting his body with every emotion while holding his own against an experienced cast.
The experienced cast includes the excellent Michael Stuhlbarg, whose terrific performance in “The Shape of Water” was one of the highlights of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest. Add his delivery of one of the year’s best monologues as Mr. Perlman to his already impressive resume. If “Call Me By Your Name” was already a very good movie, an incredible scene shared between father and son made it a near-perfect one.
That it’s a technical achievement certainly helps, as does the setting. The film could have been silent, save for the piano-heavy score, and it would have been an enjoyable two hours in the dark. It sucks you in ways you don’t fully appreciate until you’re fully committed. It’s a credit to the filmmakers that a film relatively light on story so effectively wraps you around its finger.
Perhaps the greatest trick “Call Me By Your Name” pulls is that it feels effortless. No doubt everything on screen was agonized over, perhaps for hours. But the result, a two-hour summer breeze, is the kind of romantic perfection that doesn’t come along very often. That it does so while reminding us that time is fleeting? All the better.