Tuesday 6 February 2018

Movie Review: Call Me By Your Name (2017)

A first-love romantic drama, Call Me By Your Name carries some emotion but is uneven, overlong and extremely slow.

It's the early 1980s, somewhere in northern Italy. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is seventeen years old, preparing to while away the summer at the family villa. His academic father Mr. Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), an archaeologist, hires graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) as his research assistant for six weeks.

A music lover, Elio is quiet and sensitive, and mildly resents giving up his bedroom for the confident, cocky and frequently dismissive Oliver. Both of them seek the company of girls, and Elio connects with Marzia (Esther Garrel). But gradually an undeniable attraction develops between Elio and Oliver, with the adolescent finally finding the encourage to instigate a relationship.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino with a screenplay by James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name takes two hours and twelve minutes to unfurl a simple and pretty basic love story between two men. This is a film all about the setting and the atmosphere, with endless near-static and lyrical images of fruit trees, scenic lakes, rural pathways and quaint villages. The film is often as enjoyable as flipping through postcards of the Italian landscape, and as cinematically exciting as watching paint dry.

When the actors are on the screen, Guadagnino still does not pick up the pace. It takes the best part of 90 minutes for the love between Elio and Oliver to finally emerge, and in that time the actors are occupied with many scenes of eating on the terrace, biking through the countryside, cavorting with local girls, playing the piano, reading weighty books and academic papers, and swimming. Call Me By Your Name is supposed to cover six weeks, but the film itself feels longer than that.

When the romance does finally blossom, it is noticeably unbalanced. It is clear why Elio would be enchanted by Oliver, and Timothée Chalamet's effective and expressive performance is by far the best thing about the film. But Oliver is much less believable, whether due to an underdrawn role that veers too far towards self-centred aloofness, or because Armie Hammer, at 31 years old, never comes to grips with the psyche of a graduate student falling for the seventeen year old son of his professor.

A late-in-the-day father-son talk resonates and finally injects the film with a much needed boost. But it arrives too little to make up for the preceding stultifying nothingness. Call Me By Your Name is a clumsily titled black hole, spinning slowly, killing energy and offering nothing in return.

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