Is it better to speak or to die?
Is it better to speak or to die?
- By Adam Kerr
- | Jan 08, 2018
#SGWatch4U is our weekly screen review column where we tackle anything from film to TV/Netflix.
Raw emotion. Youthful naivety. Hope. Hopelessness. Call Me By Your Name, an adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel of the same name, is at once a coming-of-age romance classic that will resonate with anyone whose hearts are full, mending or empty.
The premise is simple, yet so beautifully captured by director Luca Guadagnino, writer James Ivory, and the immensely talented cast—namely breakout actor Timothee Chalamet, who navigates the often-confusing terrain of youth, love and romance with supporting actor Armie Hammer. Chalamet plays Elio, a 17-year-old Italian teen who cautiously welcomes the slightly older Oliver (Hammer), as a guest in his house (and as his father, Professor Perlman’s annual assistant) for the next six weeks.
Elio grabs Oliver’s bags and brings it up to his own room, while he himself moves into the adjoining one throughout the entire duration. They may have separate rooms, but they’ll have to share the bathroom, where some pivotal points of the film take place. Oliver passes out from what we imagine was a long journey to the Italian city of Crema, and even skips on dinner after being rudely awakened by Elio’s purposeful dropping of a book; which serves its purpose in showing Elio’s initial impression and disdain of the “usurper”.
The first 40 minutes of the film may seem a little draggy at first, mostly because of the endless back and forth of frolicking in the midsummer sun playing volleyball, cycling everywhere from the gigantic house, lounging on warm grass, swimming in secret spots and that one important intellectual discourse between the Professor and Oliver about the etymology of the word “apricot” (later on in the film, Elio finds a rather... creative use for a similar fruit). But all the small nuances, bickering and time spent together builds up the chemistry and character development for Elio and Oliver necessary for that final scene we all know is coming.
And that’s the beauty of the film. Like Elio, you get so sucked into the now that you forget Oliver is only there for a short period of time. You get so lost in their passive aggressive squabbles and ambiguous non-verbal communications to the point you start questioning: “Does Oliver have a thing for Elio?" "Elio has a sort of girlfriend that he lost his virginity to, right? What is happening?”. You'll blatantly ignore what’s ahead because you'll end up so swept away by the pair. Like anyone so deeply in love, Elio went blind with infatuation; and so did we without even realizing. At this point, you get reminded of the reality of the situation, and decide to “ship” Elio and Oliver (Eliver? Olio?).
Chalamet takes on the role of Elio, and all of his misguided youthful skepticism, ambivalence and achievements, with finesse. The lanky fragile twink portrayed onscreen is often littered with bits of wit and curiosity, but it’s the naivety that most of us have already shed off (or compartmentalized and locked away in a dark empty space) by our twenties and his confusing fascination with Oliver that melts us.
In one particular scene, Oliver is clearly intrigued at Elio's prowess in playing one of Bach's pieces on a guitar, and again on the piano but in the style of two different 18th century composers; despite repetitive requests to play it as it should have been. The cheeky candor helps to move the blossoming relationship forward, even if they both don’t see it.
The most moving bit, though, lies in the penultimate act where Elio sits down with his father. Like most parts of the film, the scene was unequivocally simple and devoid of fancy camerawork; just two people. In a room. Talking. The revelation of it all is peppered with a tone full of pain, regret and wisdom, and advice you wished your father gave when you were that age. Oh, and don’t forget to sit through the entirety of the closing credits as everything unravels in one fell sweep.
The film sold out both its screenings when it premiered at last year’s Singapore International Film Festival, and continued to do so when The Projector released dates and times this month (there are new slots available next week, btw). It also received three nominations at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, including “Best Motion Picture – Drama”, “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Chalamet) and and "Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture" (Hammer). However, they lost out to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Darkest Hour's Gary Oldman; and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri's Sam Rockwell respectively.
Nonetheless, Call Me By Your Name is a thoughtful cryfest masterpiece that hugs you like a warm, comforting mothers’ embrace, complete with stunning paradise-like visuals of “somewhere in Northern Italy” and a turbulent enigmatic relationship that will end up in bucketful of tears. We couldn’t speak even after the brilliant credits roll, set to Sufjan Stevens’ “Visions of Gideon”.
In the meantime, check out the new music video for Sufjan Stevens' "Mystery of Love" from the film's soundtrack: