Much like the film itself, the journey and ultimate transition from youth to adulthood is usually a brief moment in the span of life. Our interests are well developed, our personalities relatively set, we are educated...but, we have yet to experience true love and intimacy, and the seemingly never ending pain of its loss. We've all been there. If we try hard enough (or watch a film like this) we may have emotional memories of our own self discovery that we experienced in youth. That overwhelming, burning intensity of desire, mixed seamlessly with a reserved self-consciousness, confusion, and guilt. We all remember the rush that came from the person we liked most in this world putting even one finger on ours, for the first time. The world outside of that moment melted away like never before. Likewise, we might remember the need we felt to think about every word we said before we said it, suddenly caring so much about what this one particular person thought of us. Do they know? Do I want them to know? Do they care? Am I good enough? Most importantly, does the risk of speaking truth outweigh the pain of silence?
"Coming of age" is a label that I'm not particularly a fan of, but it is the most commonly understood label for this genre. I suppose you could call this a "coming of age" film, but, is told from a unique same sex perspective (in the 80s') and the nature of the transition is purely relationship based. Elio, the precocious 17 year old partaking in this journey, is already by most accounts...an adult. He is a highly educated musical prodigy and polyglot, belonging to an educated and privileged family, and has enjoyed all the freedoms and cultured experiences that this kind of life allows. That includes world travels and Summers at his parent's villa in Northern Italy. He is sexually active with his girlfriend, drinks, smokes, reads high brow literature, and transcribes music by ear. But, what he has not experienced, is what to him "matters most". Enter the older, handsome, and intellectual doctoral student, Oliver, to whom Elio is compelled to confess this lack of knowledge. Oliver is discovering his own buried identity, which has been carefully hidden by his overly confident exterior. You get the idea.
The power of "Call me by your name" really lies in its simplicity. For a film with a 2+ hour running time, there is relatively little happening as far as plot advancement goes. A story-line is not non-existent, so much as it is irrelevant. The film is casual and relaxed, it unfolds organically...like Summer itself, and includes all of the sun-kissed eroticism of the season. This is a movie about feelings, not action. It's about moments. This Summer. These people.This place. It is about a look or a touch. The music begins to flutter as Elio hears Oliver's voice in the distance, telling us all we need know. A lot is left unsaid. A lot is left undone. The future is ambiguous.
This is NOT a "gay movie". It is universal in its themes. Humanistic. Anyone, of any gender or orientation, is going to relate and remember their own burning passions of youth. Their first love. That feeling will perhaps run a little deeper with gay audiences, who know all too well the tragedy of such relationships. The overwhelming need for secrecy, at first, and then later the desperate longing to hold onto this new truth and physical/emotional discovery....no matter the cost. When lust transitions to love, you simply stop caring (If you're lucky). The heart wants what it wants. We can experience these feelings again, of course, maybe even stronger... but never again for the first time. That happens just once, along with all the gifts and burdens that go with it. It is just a moment in time, but has very powerful significance in shaping us. That moment is what "Call me by your name" presents so very well, with wonderful acting (Chalamet especially), directing, incredible Oscar nominated original music, and an Oscar winning screenplay set in the gorgeous Italian countryside. Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) delivers a must-see monologue in the film that (while a bit heavy handed) is an emotional powerhouse about love, aging, and acceptance. It is a masterfully crafted film. Each scene flows effortlessly into the next. I have rarely been so affected by a film, and I really prefer it over the source novel (though they compliment each other very well). It is truly an exceptional viewing experience.