Calling Cinema By Its Name In Northern Italy, Circa 1983

I have no idea where I was or what I was doing in 1983, but I do remember the winter quarter of 1992 when I asked a girl if she liked mangoes. It was a bittersweet, ultimately horrible memory that was drudged up thanks to Call Me By Your Name, which currently is my #1 film of 2017. Cinema, at its creative apex, is a living and breathing thing, and I was full of life by the closing moments of this film, even if those mangoes eventually got in the way.

The goal for my haphazard Dream Factory column was to spotlight films that have made a substantial impact on my life, and hopefully in baring my rather uninteresting soul I’d discover much more substantial movie lovers who’d share their own experiences with cinema. Whether it’s through this column or even conversing with listeners on CinemAddicts, I’m simply excited to hear and respond to reactions to this transcendent narrative.

Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics
Timothée Chalamet as Elio, Michael Stuhlbarg as Mr. Perlman and Armie Hammer as Oliver
Photo by Peter Spears, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

It’s 1983 and we’re in Northern Italy. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is a  quick-witted and seemingly lackadaisical 17-year-old with a talent for music and charming the socks out of his family and friends. Wiling his days away at his family’s 17th century villa with his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) and translator mother (Amira Casar), Elio is doing just fine – or so he thinks.

Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old American grad student who temporarily moves in with the family to work for Elio’s father, sets the rest of this blissful and potentially heartbreaking summer in motion.

Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics
Armie Hammer as Oliver and Timothée Chalamet as Elio
Photo by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Call Me By Your Name is the final installment of filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy (the first two being I Am Love and A Bigger Splash), and setting the film in the lush, countryside expanse of Crema (where Guadagnino resides) infuses the story with an immersive personal touch. Throw in a James Ivory screenplay adaptation of André Aciman’s novel (the original tale was set in the Italian Riviera) and inspired work from the ensemble and you have the perfect meal.


It’s difficult to encapsulate the true genius behind Call Me By Your Name, but let me digress even further. During one lazy afternoon, Oliver asks Elio to join him for a swim. As Oliver relaxes in the water, he listens as Elio strums a catchy tune on guitar. When he asks Elio to play that song once again, Elio has Oliver follow him into the house where he plays the Bach composition on piano. Absolutely noticing Elio has changed his approach to this piece, Oliver requests the teen play it exactly the way he heard it on guitar. This leads to a sarcastic yet amiable interplay between the two, and only when both decide to compromise and listen to one another does the true music begin.

via GIPHY

There are no fixed truths or way to proceed in life that’s suggested in Call Me By Your Name. Rather, the film invites you to make your own decisions when dealing with matters of the heart. Will you risk it all, possibly sacrificing your own solid sense of complacency, for a shot at something truly special? Or is being practical and loving the one you’re with (or staying solo) the smartest way to go?

There is a overpowering pull that gradually draws Elio and Oliver together, and everything around them, whenever they are together, simply feels more alive. Shot in 35mm, Call Me By Your Name is also a visually alluring feature, as every juicy peach, glass of wine, and aimless bike ride into town is subtly builds into the inevitable between these young lovers. Though Oliver is 24 and Elio is obviously still in his “coming-of-age” phase, this is not a May/December romance. No mentoring or fatherhood issues are involved – this is simply the story of two people who are madly in lust/love with one another.

Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics
Amira Casar as Annella, Michael Stulhbarg as Mr. Perlman, Armie Hammer as Oliver and Timothée Chalamet as Elio
Photo by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Going back to this whole cinema is life and mangoes thing – I’m in one of UCLA’s many eateries asking this beautiful girl in line if she likes mangoes. She had placed a mango on her plate, and I joked how, being half-Filipino, that the mango is our national fruit. She laughed (due to my annoying Woody Allen-esque delivery), and we ended up having lunch for close to 30 minutes. The main topic of conversation was our mutual love for Cinema Paradiso and how much movies impact our own lives. When the defining moment came to ask for her number, I shook her hand, told her I had a class to get to, and added “I’ll see you around.”

Call Me By Your Name - Sony
Timothée Chalamet as Elio and Esther Garrel as Marzia
Photo by Luca Campri, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

It was a cowardly moment, but I rationalized that it’s a small world and, if it was meant to be, I’d see her again. Besides, there will be so many opportunities down the road. Youth, as they say, favors the young. But those salad days are gone, and since fortune favors the bold, I’m penniless in the love department. But off to more important matters . . .

Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics
Timothée Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver
Photo by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Calling yourself by someone other’s name is such a romantic and ultimately beautiful notion, as realizing that you are tied to another person (“love is touching souls” as Joni Mitchell once mused) must be a wonderful thing. Though the film mainly centers on Elio and Oliver’s relationship, Esther Garrel is also wonderful as the lovestruck Marzia (she has eyes for Elios) and Michael Stuhlbarg delivers one of cinema’s most beautiful monologues (it’s right up there with Virginia Madsen’s wine speech in Sideways). And just in case you forgot:

One of the excellent music choices for Call Me By Your Name is the use of Maurice Ravel’s Ma mére l’Oye. The piece was written as a piano duet for two children, and it’s a safe assumption to say Guadagnino wants us to listen with more than our ears.

via GIPHY

Will I ever listen to the beautiful music that’s being played in Call Me By Your Name? I surely hope so, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m just hoping there are more Emilios and Olivers out there (and for that matter Marzias), who are inspired by this simply breathtaking film. For me, cinema is life, but movies like Call Me By Your Name gently nudge us towards unexpected terrain. I’m crossing fingers this film might be my own personal call to arms to try something new – this time I’ll leave the mangoes at home.

Call Me By Your Name Movie Rating: Five (******) out of Five (******) stars.

Call Me By Your Name
Michael Stulhbarg as Mr. Perlman
Photo by Luca Campri, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Call Me By Your Name  opens nationwide today. I’ll be discussing this movie in the December episode of CinemAddicts. Below is our latest episode:

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