Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Dir: Luca Guadagnino. Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel. Running time: 132 mins

★★★★★

A timeworn quandary that has haunted us all – to reveal a crush and risk the humiliation of it being unreciprocated, or not to reveal a crush and regret a missed opportunity – fuels the fire at the centre of this (surely?!) golden-statuette bound love story.

Luca Guadagnino, an Italian director, who forayed into English-speaking filmmaking with last year’s A Bigger Splash, further proves himself a maestro of sensual, simmering cinema with Call Me By Your Name, starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Based on Andre Aciman’s novel, this is the story of Elio (Chalamet), a 17-year-old living a placid, almost palatial existence ‘somewhere in Northern Italy’ with his affable, academic parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar), whose affection for their son is abound. In fact, everyone who encounters Elio appears to be smitten, including his on-off girlfriend Marzia. He’s a good-looking boy who transcribes piano concertos and plays them just as beautifully, and drifts around with a nonchalant sulkiness that’s like catnip to teenage girls. However his command is thrown off-kilter when a new student arrives to assist his father, in the form of Oliver (Hammer), a statuesque man of seraphic beauty. And little does he know, as he shows Oliver to his room, but Elio’s life is about to be transformed.

Timothée Chalamet has a natural liveliness onscreen reminiscent of Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, or Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now and certainly he deserves the same recognition granted to Lucas Hedges with his performance in last year’s Manchester by the Sea. His Elio is a hormone-fuelled fusion of braggadocio, playfulness and naiveté, and the more his fascination with Oliver grows, the more we are treated to a cornucopia of emotions, which Chalamet nails every time. He is an intensely watchable actor, and as the camera lingers on his face at the end of the film, in a moment of sheer distress, you sense that Guadagnino is equally aware of this fact.

At once nostalgic and stunningly contemporary, Guadagnino’s 80s aesthetic – hi-tops, Talking Heads t-shirts and Armie Hammer dancing emphatically to The Psychedelic Furs – never overwhelms to the point of pastiche, but instead flavours the film with a greater sense of taboo and restraint. Necessary too. If this had been set in the modern day everything could’ve been set in motion with the coy use of an aubergine, and then a peach emoji. And the film would’ve lost its sense of aching sadness, of precious time being frittered away in the to-ing and fro-ing of pride and desire embattled. Amplifying this heartache is the soundtrack, as supplied by Sufjan Stevens and his soul-baring strumming.

Indeed, language of the spoken and not the texted kind is of great importance to Call Me By Your Name. An early scene in which Hammer’s Oliver distinguishes himself as more than just a thoroughly American, borderline arrogant interloper – all chiselled abs and nonchalant goodbyes – involves the etymology of the word ‘apricot’.

And the film plays up the theme of language and speaking throughout a beautifully subtle script, penned by James Ivory. Elio’s father says “Remember, you can always talk to us”, signalling that both parents are wiser to their son’s maturation than perhaps he gives them credit for. Whilst Elio’s own mastery of French, Italian and English and his glissade between the three only serves to highlight the inability of language to sometimes express what we feel. Guadagnino skilfully depicts these moments of erotic silence; glances across food-strewn tables, glimpses between their adjoining bedrooms, snatches of possibility. Each of these moments is imbued with an almost suffocating intensity, until a crescendo to confession – a beautiful dance of scene, in which the truth is blurted and Oliver asks Elio “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

A rush of ecstatic discovery follows, as Elio and Olivier gorge on what they’ve denied themselves for the past few weeks. It’s thrilling, throbbing cinema, in which romance done incognito can only really achieve. And yet, their bond is less tortured and forbidden than gay romance might ever have been on film; secretive, yes, but with a lightness and joyousness that ripples across the screen like the Italian waters which feature so prominently.

This is genuine and generous filmmaking, in the sense that no one here is a villain capable of malice or even unkindness. The characters are human, sure, and with that come flaws and foibles, but there is a deep, warming feeling of goodness that ripens throughout the film and culminates in a tender scene between father and son. And just as you imagine that this a summer Elio will replay in his mind forever more, an apex in which leisure and pleasure coalesced to spine-tingling effect, this is a film you want to luxuriate in forever. If not just watch repeatedly.

Every frame is dripping with vivid colours and textures; the sticky juice of a peach, the oozing overspill of an egg yolk, the crimson deluge of a nosebleed, the cerulean splashes of the river. It is a world enriched by the halcyon glow memory, spellbinding in its every breath and kiss and quiver.

What with Carol, Moonlight, God’s Own Country and The Handmaiden, queer cinema is finally prospering, and proving to be some of the most romantic films of all.

Review: Two Night Stand

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DIR: Max Nichols. Starring: Miles Teller, Analeigh Tipton, Jessica Szohr, Leven Rambin and Scott Mescudi.

Navigating the etiquette of a one-night stand can be a tricky business. Do you stay for awkward chitchat over toast and coffee out of politeness or the hope of round 2? Or make a dash for it at the first sign of daylight?

Such is the subject of Max Nichols’ debut film ‘Two Night Stand’, wherein two love-spurned New Yorkers meet for a no-strings hook-up, only for an untimely and unprecedented snowstorm to force them together. Cue awkward conversation.

Megan, (Analeigh Tipton, of Crazy, Stupid, Love and Warm Bodies fame) is a newly single, pre-med graduate in limbo. Unemployed, lacking ambition, and on the cusp of being “sexiled” by her loved up roommate (Jessica Szohr), she resorts to world of online dating to get her head back in the game. No sooner than she’s turned down two potentials, she meets Alec (Miles The Spectacular Now Teller) and arranges to meet at his Brooklyn apartment. Only once checking his closet is free of skeletons, of course. (I’ll forgive the lightning speed of this online meet-cute for the sake of narrative progression, but if Megan were in the real world, I would expect a lot more duds before a hopeful comes along).

Cut to the morning after and Megan attempts to tip-toe away from her casual encounter like a thief in the night. But the gods, or her “magic Grandma” have other plans in mind, causing a resentful Megan and Alec to spend more time than desirable in one another’s company. But as the snow builds, the ice between them melts away.

The film takes a while to get going, sifting through various stages of small-talk, gentle banter and snow-based escapades before getting to the heart of the plot. Once Megan and Alec decide to give each other a performance review to better help their next conquests, the chemistry between leads and the pace of the films, soars.

Two Night Stand

For a super low-budget indie, with two leads and roughly one location, Two Night Stand does an admirable job of keeping viewers interest piqued and cajoling you round to rooting for this couple to make it work. Nichols makes smart use of the cramped space and screenwriter Mark Hammer throws enough obstacles down to keep the proverbial ball rolling.

Tipton’s performance varies between mediocre and adorable. She’s like a slightly less vivacious Zooey Deschanel and endows Megan with the same wide-eyed, quietly-spoken naiveté as seen in Crazy, Stupid, Love. However, she’s at her sweetest when describing to Alec what he can do to ensure she has a ‘spectacular’ time and you can understand the attraction.

Teller has proven he can do the charming, witty, unlikely love interest in the infinitely more outstanding The Spectacular Now, as well as the lesser-known 21 and Over and The Awkward Moment. As expected, he gives an intelligent performance, at once charismatic, and vulnerable. This won’t do anything special to cement his rising star status, but it certainly won’t harm it either.

The level of honestly and sensitivity regarding casual sex is also believable, if not completely refreshing.

(Women fake orgasms?! No?!) But among its other self-effacing virtues, are two relatively unglamorous leads with whom the everyman (or woman) can relate. Megan is currently fielding job offers, a.k.a. living in her pyjamas (a situation that sounds all too familiar), whilst Alec is biding his time by working in bank, because since when did we have to like our jobs? Equally appealing is the fact that both their parents are still married and they’re not scapegoating their love problems on messy divorces, broken homes or bat-shit crazy former lovers. These are just two young adults trying to figure life out and let their guards down.

The ending falls prey to slightly more hackneyed portrayals of relationships, as a plot twist sees Alec having to win Megan over. But even in its most saccharine, ‘been-there-done-that’ moments, Teller and Tipton make for an engaging pair, in a likeable story. It sure beats “sitting alone in the dark, texting”.

Verdict: A somewhat contrived, but confident and cute debut. Like the concept of casual sex itself, it’s nothing special, but will keep you occupied until something better comes along.