Call Me by Your Name (2017) fills the screen with a multitude of textural and social elements to convey the story of a brief affair between two men, Elio and Oliver, set in 1983 Italy. Art, sculptures, music, landscapes, architecture, natural sounds, fruit, meals, smoking, shimmering lakes, hikes and bicycle rides comment sometimes overtly (love songs, statues of unclothed humanity) and sometimes subtly (sensual water elements) on what is connecting Elio and Oliver. The first half of Call Me by Your Name consists of this very unhurried exposition of elements with little plot development inducing a state of peacefulness, like a relaxed vacation.
The central story eventually builds and due to the simplicity, its effectiveness depends mostly on both the handling of Elio and Oliver’s growing attraction and of their foretold separation. Elio and Oliver’s increasing interest is a slow burn, somewhat coy and motivated mainly by desire and youthful lust. The sum total of these developments are not overly emotional or stirring, but do render an honest and tender depiction of how people come together. The actual sex is frank, brief, but not graphic nor titillating. The real achievement here is the nearly tangible force that draws Elio and Oliver together, as if the statue retrieved from the sea is harkening back to more open societies working along with all the other elements to purposely will and sanction their passion.
More affecting than the romantic developments is the conclusion of their affair, which ends circumstantially – no harm is intended (if only intentions could avoid devastating the human heart). Immediately after Oliver’s departure three scenes effectively depict Elio’s distraught state – the call to mom, a father’s outpouring of empathy and love, and tears from a heart that a hearth cannot warm. To Oliver’s great credit a phone call just prior to this sad final image reveals the depth of impact their time together meant. It’s a purposeful acknowledgement to affirm that one of life’s rare and most intense gifts does outweigh, in time, the sadness of loss.
Overall Rating: B
What could have made it an A: 30 minutes shorter and more compelling romantic elements.