This piece contains spoilers for the film ‘Call Me By Your Name’
“What does one do around here?”
“Wait for the summer to end.”
Watching the hazy blue skies, sun-sheened skin and absorbing romance of Luca Guadagnino’s much-loved ‘Call Me By Your Name’, you wouldn’t be blamed for hoping that autumn never comes.
A Best Picture nomination, Timothée Chalamet’s rise to infamy and a massive uptake in the use of the peach emoji were just some of the after effects of the release of ‘Call Me By Your Name’. It spawned much discourse too: most of it was positive, sharing adoration for this queer coming-of-age that completely submerges you in the time and place (‘somewhere in northern Italy’), but some more dubious, particularly about the age gap of the two main characters and the actors portraying them.
There’s no question that the dynamics of the central relationship can feel a little disconcerting at times, but regardless, this film gives us one of the most convincing love stories ever depicted. The chemistry between Elio (Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) is so tangible you can practically reach out and touch it, and it perfectly captures the very specific intensity with which we often experience love at a young age.
Elio is all of us, going through our first crush in five intoxicating stages:
It’s a tale as old as time, masking your feelings for someone by pretending that they are, in fact, your least favourite person in the world. Elio shows contempt but also curiosity for Oliver from the get-go: dropping a book loudly on purpose to wake him up for dinner, flinching from his touch at first, and calling him impolite and arrogant because of his signature “Later!” when saying goodbye.
“I think you’ll grow to like him”, Elio’s father says. “What if I grow to hate him?”, he responds. They do say it’s a fine line, after all.
23 minutes in, and Elio’s feelings start to expose themselves. A glimpse of his notebook shows us his inner monologue, spiky statements etched over and over – “I was too harsh”; “I thought he didn’t like me”.
Elio may not have admitted or accepted his desires, but just because he doesn’t think he wants Oliver, doesn’t mean he’s happy about anyone else having him. Later that evening, Oliver throws questionable shapes on the dancefloor in an iconic billowy blue shirt, edging closer to curly-haired Chiara – but Elio feigns disinterest. As a top-tier awkward teen who’s done more than my fair share of longingly staring at someone I wish I was dancing with, the shot where Elio leans forward to see Oliver and Chiara stealing a kiss is etched on my brain. The camera acts as Elio’s eyes, focusing on Oliver alone, picking him out of a crowd. Only when it zooms out do we realise he is surrounded by people.
Elio joins the dancefloor and ends that night having almost-sex with Marzia, which he bluntly shares with Oliver the next morning. What better way to quashyour feelings than directing them at someone else?
Young love makes you do strange things. I’ve written extensive open letters in my teenage diary, drawn portraits over and over, bought and accepted gifts I shouldn’t have and asked for hoodies when I wasn’t cold just to feel like I was getting closer to the object of my affections.
Oliver is out, and Elio is curious. He sneaks into Oliver’s room and looks around. Ignoring the fresh pile of laundry, he picks up a pair of shorts hanging off the bed. Placing them on the duvet, he buries his head inside them, inhales deeply, rocks back on his knees. It’s such an intimately embarrassing moment, it feels voyeuristic to watch; we’re seeing Elio’s most private actions.
Love is risky, at its core. It splits you open and leaves you vulnerable, whether you act on it or not. “Is it better to speak, or to die?” is a pivotal question in the film. Do Elio and Oliver say what they’re feeling out loud, feelings that would have been challenging and scary to admit back then, or do they go on not knowing?
“Better to speak”.
Elio does, eventually, as he, Oliver and the camera circle a large statue in the local town, the deftly written dialogue dancing around the statement. Oliver ultimately shuts him down, despite giving in a little as they stop at a river on the cycle home, but as a viewer you can sense the change in their interactions. They’ve spoken, and there’s no going back.
When they finally meet at midnight, creeping quietly so as to keep their secret, it is beautifully awkward, authentic, charming and passionate all at once. Requited love can be rare in real life, so to see it captured with such intensity on screen feels like an honour, a hint of hope that such romance is possible.
As Miley Cyrus has taught us, nothing breaks like a heart. Elio and Oliver’s relationship was always behest to a ticking clock, and though they feel frustrated at days wasted, there’s not a step on their path to each other that you would change.
After a trip away that shows them at their most free, as well as Elio at maybe his most vulnerable, the clock runs out. With a long hug and sad smiles, they say goodbye.
I’ve only ever experienced one break-up in my life, but it played out much the same. Where Oliver boards a train, I set off in a car full of stuff packed up from the house we’d shared up until that point. Watching my old life growing smaller in the rear view mirror, I cried all the way up the M62. Seeing Elio’s tears as his mum drives him home is like a flashback, putting me right back in that driver’s seat.
Whether it’s a five year partnership like mine, or a short but intense connection like Elio’s, relationships can create a vast, seemingly never-ending kind of grief like nothing else in life. What could I have done differently? What could have been?
The final scene of the film moves us forward in time, and summer is over. The fire is crackling, and there’s snow on the ground. Elio gets the call that is both healing and hurtful; Oliver remembers everything, but has moved on anyway. The credits roll to the soundtrack of Sufjan Stevens’ melancholy ‘Visions of Gideon’, and the camera lingers on Elio’s face as he watches the flames. Tears form and fall, but so too do small smiles. He’s taking his father’s advice from earlier, and embracing his sorrow and pain so as not to kill with it the joy he felt.
Everything ends, eventually. Even long, hot summers somewhere in northern Italy. It doesn’t make us any less grateful to have soaked up the sunshine while it lasted.