“Call Me By Your Name” embraces the photogenic quality of Northern Italy wholeheartedly, framing the characters under the arches of ancient buildings, or bathing them in golden sunlight. It’s through this poetic lens that we view our protagonist Elio’s coming of age story. Elio lives a pretty fantastic life. His family is incredibly wealthy, so much so that they’re able to vacation to Italy every year. He spends his time reading, transcribing music, or partying. Oh yeah, and his dad’s Michael Stuhlbarg, which, in general, is pretty cool. But a viewer gets the sense that Elio feels a little incomplete: he’s moody, reserved, and a little distant.
Enter Oliver, Elio’s father’s grad student who lives with them for a short period of time to do some research. When Elio first meets Oliver, he thinks that he’s “arrogant.” It is only when Elio, Oliver, and his father go out on an expedition that they start to (admittedly somewhat abruptly) respect each other a little bit more. Eventually, this friendship blossoms into a romance as the two begin an affair behind Elio’s parents’ back, or so they think.
Part of the reason why “Call Me By Your Name” works so well is because viewers never feel like the story is contrived. Instead, it unfolds with a natural, easygoing rhythm. The entire film feels like a protracted vacation, with a slow, calm pace that allows viewers to soak in the rich atmosphere and observe the characters with an uncommon level of detail and nuance. For example, when Elio and Oliver are first beginning to explore their attraction towards one another, the film doesn’t try to go for anything overtly fast-paced or comedic in order to entertain the audience. Instead, the film simply observes their behavior with a lightly playful touch, allowing their relationship to evolve organically.
It’s this patience that makes the dramatic moments all the more compelling. Elio’s and Oliver’s sex scene, for example, is written and directed with so much build up that it makes the actual moment of consummation that much more cathartic. This scene and many others in the movie are filmed in long, unbroken takes that allow us to see how these characters act naturally within the space. It gives the performances a more realistic, exploratory feeling as we are essentially watching these characters develop in what feels like real time.
“If Call Me By Your Name” was just a simple love story, it would’ve worked just fine, without exactly being very memorable. Instead, it is the film’s message, delivered beautifully by Stuhlbarg, that causes the movie to resonate. “Right now, there’s sorrow, pain,” he tells his son. “Don’t kill it and with it the joy you’ve felt.”
“Call Me By Your Name” is a movie about life experiences, and learning to fully embrace those experiences with a complete and total sincerity. This includes moments that are both happy and painful. The film tells us that emotions, all emotions, are what make life worth living. And it’s here that “Call Me By Your Name’s” elliptical structure becomes so clear. Life doesn’t have a clear and precise three-act structure leading you towards some sort of destiny. It’s a series of events that pass you by. And it’s up to you to give them value.