At the 2018 Academy Awards, The Shape of Water was the big winner. Entering the night with more nominations than any other film, the fantasy film won four awards, including the coveted Best Picture award. However, there were plenty of other nominated films that were just as amazing. From Get Out to Lady Bird, this year’s list of Best Picture losers is jam-packed with fantastic films featuring beautiful cinematography, sharp and witty screenplays, and gut-wrenching acting. One of my favorites on the list is Luca Guadagnino’s film Call Me by Your Name.
The romantic drama Call Me by Your Name, based on André Aciman’s novel of the same name, is set in northern Italy; it follows precocious 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and his dreamy summer of 1983. He spends his days transcribing music, swimming at the river, and dining with his family. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an archaeology professor and his mother (Amira Casar) reads German romance stories for the family. Their leisurely days spent at a 17th century villa are interrupted when Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American graduate student hired by Mr. Perlman to help with academic work, arrives for the summer. What follows is a stunning romance that blooms between Elio and Oliver; one that begins with attempts at flirtation by Elio and ends with a pure, deep love.
The movie is phenomenal for several reasons; that is why it is featured on everyone’s “Best of 2017” list. First off, the movie is just beautiful to look at and take in. It is filmed in Guadagnino’s hometown, and apricot trees and pastel buildings provide the backdrop for every scene. A closer examination shows that every scene is carefully presented; even the table where the Perlman’s eat breakfast seems artfully arranged (though that may just be the work of the housekeeper, played by Vanda Capriolo). The beautiful cinematography evokes nostalgic memories of summer (perhaps that is why it was released in the dead of winter). You would think that endless scenes of two men biking would become tiring, but Guadagnino is a master at keeping the audience engaged through exquisite scenery.
The film works for many other reasons, too: the stunning soundtrack, featuring original songs by Suljan Stevens among others, and a screenplay that perfectly adapts Anciman’s novel. However, it is by far the superb acting that takes the cake. Armie Hammer is the perfect choice for Oliver (if a bit old; he is 31 playing a 24-year-old): He is carefree, exuberant, and unbelievably American. Timothée Chalamet, however, is Elio down to the core; I struggle to describe how phenomenal he is in this film. Chalamet captures Elio’s precociousness and confidence, but also his fear and vulnerability, in a way that many actors twice his age have yet to accomplish. Chalamet, at only 22 years old, was a favorite to win the Oscar for Best Actor (though he eventually lost to Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour). The film works because Chalamet, Hammer, and director Guadagnino have an incredible bond that allows for vulnerability and openness in every scene. (Hammer took this to a new level when he may or may not have admitted to falling in love with his director; to his credit, Guadagnino was not surprised or upset in the slightest.)
The film is praised particularly for featuring a gay love story with no enemy or tragedy; the only thing Elio and Oliver have to face is time itself. However, the Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber recently gave a new take on the film that turns this observation on its head. He argued that there is a tinge of tragedy to the film; that the film’s motifs of flies and blood both suggest that Elio and Oliver, similar to many other gay men in the 80’s, have been affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While not everyone agrees with this interpretation, it certainly gives a darker, yet still beautiful perspective to the film.
The film has also drawn comparisons to last year’s Best Picture winner, Moonlight, as both films feature a gay couple. It should be said, however, that the two movies are drastically different in almost every way. Elio is precocious and painfully privileged; he navigates his relationship in a town where homosexuality is accepted (even his parents know and approve of his relationship). In Moonlight, however, we see protagonist Chiron grow into adulthood, all while facing poverty, racism, and homophobia; the movie is dark and depressing, and nothing like Call Me by Your Name at all. The only similarity the films share is the widespread accolades they have received.
The film, like most critically acclaimed movies, had a limited release; it began in Los Angeles and New York in late November and has slowly made its way throughout the country. However, Eugeneans have no need to worry: Call Me by Your Name is currently playing at the Broadway Metro.