This marks my first attempt at a movie review, although it could turn out as more of a movie rant. In my book, if something makes you feel, it’s art. And if it makes you feel something you didn’t think it was possible to feel, then it’s artistic purpose has been more than served. This movie has indeed “cunning ways of finding your weakest spot”. More than a magnetic cinematic experience, this masterpiece is in its totality an emotional journey like no other. “Call Me By Your Name” (directed by Luca Guadagnino) seduces you at first, pulls you in, almost hypnotizes you, then it makes you fall in love only to eventually rip your heart out. Sounds familiar?
It acts like the lover we’ve always wished we had, like the one we lost forever… We go from lust to agony to ecstasy to joy and lust again – we literally traverse every possible human emotion. It is that kind of movie which by the end of it will make us feel more humane simply because we got to experience it… to experience love at the highest level, in its simplest form.
Once you’re caught in this mirage, there’s no turning back. You are so immersed in the story you begin to feel just as enamored as Elio (played by Timothée Chalamet), longing for reciprocity, recalling your teenage years, reliving the better days, when all grass was green, when rivers welcomed you naked and vulnerable, when you welcomed darkness with your lover beside you… What astounds me about this movie is that every scene, every landscape, every word, gesture, character – everything seems to be aligned to the love between Elio and Oliver (played by Armie Hammer), serving it well. Each small element helps build a love so intense and disarming, all-encompassing and fresh, consuming and maddening and really unique. Every line, every tree, every fruit, every musical note that Elio transcribes, summer itself – all bow down to humanity’s deepest most enthralling sentiment.
Here is also why I believe this movie is the first one of its kind and why it will probably go down in the history of cinema. Aside from the brilliant performance of Timothée Chalamet, the magnificent scenery, and the magnitude of the story that unfolds, this movie cryptically manages to rise above labels. It aims to tell a universal tale and so it escapes identity politics; in that sense, if you think it’s a gay love story because there are two guys falling in love, you’re missing the point. This is not a gay movie and it’s not an LGBT movie. What is being depicted on the screen is the inner turmoil of a 17-year old falling in love for the first time. Nowhere in the movie (and perhaps nowhere in the novel either) is their sexual orientation specified and that’s because it wouldn’t serve the story. You are watching a younger version of yourself falling in love, longing, exploring and you reminisce about what could have been, and that is regardless of who you are, your gender, your social background and so on. As Timothée himself states in an interview, art happens in the eye of the viewer. For me, this is a story about lost love and about allowing yourself to grieve.
The movie also stands out because of the graceful way in which it portrays masculinity. Unlike other on-screen love story between two men, there is not a single trace of compulsive masculinity or violence. For me, this leaves Elio and Oliver gravitating in a utopic universe, outside any gender norms, with only love and tenderness for each other. There is a closeness that is rare between two men on screen, an intimacy that will leave you in awe and a friendship to celebrate all of our most-treasured friendships. Moreover, there is no eventual punishment, no bullying or ridicule, no death – all ubiquitous elements in “gay themed” movies. One moment that stands out in the story is the handshake between the two lovers (see photo above), as a symbol of peace, friendship, unity, and love – all so much needed amidst today’s socio-political unrest.
This is a love story that feels genuine, always in your proximity. In the end, you are the one becoming aligned with this force. Because you have retained your ability to feel, as Elio’s father (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) advises him, you are transformed. But not before you go through the soul-ripping experience of losing the one you love, of course, all by means of a nothing short of a cathartic performance that could even get young Timothée Chalamet an Oscar nomination (fingers crossed).
The movie’s philosophical, linguistic, artistic as well as erotic tones give the story a bohemian vibe and adorn it with many symbols, as we vibrate alongside Elio and Oliver (or I should say Oliver and Elio). Every character becomes an artist, not only contemplating, but delivering this nascent and forgiving love. We listen to piano chords from Bach, we savor nature’s ripe fruits, we read 16th century French romance, we swim in the river, we make love and hear the leaves of endless possibilities shuffling outside our window. And of course, we wish it never ended. When was the last time you felt this way about a movie?
Spoiler alert: it does end. And it will break your heart only to stitch it back together. This splendid celebration of love will bring you back to life, will remind you why it matters to remain open and vulnerable, and why it is always “better to speak”. It will not solve the mystery of love though. But you will most certainly remember this cinematic feast as one of those experiences that has touched you.