when watching Luca Guadagnino‘s filmography, his most recent release, Bones and everything is easy to consider his darkest romance yet, but call me by your name is brutal in itself. Though lacking in blood and gore, the film is an emotional stab to the heart, brimming with melancholy and tragedy beneath its dreamy pastels. The critically acclaimed 2017 romance follows Elio (Timothy Chalamet)’s during a life-changing summer when he had a magical, fleeting romance with his father’s older summer intern, 24-year-old Oliver (Army Hammer). A bittersweet haze of nostalgia permeates every frame, casting a cloud of melancholy over the moments that defined this pivotal summer.
The memory of Oliver
Elio is an impressionable 17-year-old who falls utterly in love and is overcome with desire for an older man who never intended to commit to more than one summer affair. Guadagnino makes this power imbalance known throughout the film, visually painting a towering and all-encompassing aura around Oliver that dominates the screen. camera operator Sayombhu Mukdeeprom often shoots Oliver from a lower angle, mimicking the feeling of looking up to him. In doing so, we see Oliver in the way Elio will likely remember him later, his commanding presence held immense power over a utterly infatuated Elio.
When Oliver first arrives at the villa, he is immediately established as an enigmatic visitor with a powerful presence and a touch of mysticism. Elio’s parents study him as a strange creature and stare at Oliver’s tall figure as he steps out of the taxi. He soon catches the attention of everyone in the small Italian town, with Elio’s mother, Annella (Amira Casara), even referring to him as “la muvi star.” As Oliver descends the stairs for his first meal with the Perlman family, the camera films him from a low angle and the solar flare from the window creates an ethereal, divine aura around him. The only sound is his feet marching loudly and confidently down the stairs to the breakfast table. As he descends the stairs, the camera follows him as he enters the patio, showing how his presence so effortlessly controls the room. With these choices, Guadagnino places Oliver in the context of Elio’s memory and cinematically mimics his growing infatuation and all-encompassing desire.
The weight of nostalgia
Before their climactic confession of feelings, we witness a series of scenes that on the surface seem mundane, but each carry considerable weight in Elio’s memory of the summer. By forgoing a more traditional story structure to instead show fleeting moments, Guadagnino shows how it is often the most mundane moments that become the most important memories. In one such scene, Oliver goes to a volleyball game with Elio’s friends, while Elio and others watch from the grass. Oliver runs off to take a sip of water, firmly touching and massaging Elio’s shoulder as he drinks. Oliver plays it slyly as if trying to remove a knot of tension, but Guadagnino’s camera work focuses on the fleeting touch and Elio’s face in response. It is said that there is no dialogue indicating Elio’s feelings at the moment, but in the span of a few seconds his expression shifts and contorts, a mixture of panic and shock on his face. Oliver, on the other hand, is inscrutable, sunglasses mask his facial expression and his gentle composure remains intact as Elio sways under his touch. It’s a series that would seem insignificant if viewed from an objective point of view, but this moment was monumental to Elio, charged with mutual unspoken desire.
Guadagnino charges simple moments with electric passion, showing how fleeting touches nearly short-circuited an Elio in love. On their first trip to town together, they take part in the typically boring introductory talk. We look at them from a distance and make clear the grandeur and ease of Oliver’s presence in contrast to Elio’s small, awkward nature. As they get up to leave, Oliver puts his hand on Elio’s shoulder. Soon after he touches Elio’s shoulder, a happy, whimsical and frenetic score begins to play, adding to the exciting significance of Oliver’s touch at this moment. This simple gesture is monumental in the context of Elio’s memory, with the introduction of music emphasizing it. The camera lingers on him for a long time as Oliver rides off on his bike, unable to take his eyes off him. Staying fixated on Elio for a few seconds, we see that a simple touch has made him stagger, completely awestruck and overcome with attraction. Laissez-faire moments of small talk and meandering bike rides are filmed with careful nuance and attention highlighting their importance in Elio’s memory, portraying a growing infatuation that eventually wounds his heart beyond repair.
The pains of the past
Once Oliver and Elio act on their feelings, the film’s wandering and relaxed pace accelerates into shorter, fleeting moments of intimacy and passion between them. This change in pace mimics how tragically short his time with Oliver felt. Their short-lived romance culminates in Oliver and Elio traveling to a distant city together on their last night. They roam drunkenly through the dark, shadowy streets of the city, dancing and kissing freely and openly. The song “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs, who played early in the film when Oliver and Elio were dancing, starts playing again, a nostalgic reminder of when summer had just started and their feelings first blossomed. As Elio and Oliver have their final kiss, the shot goes out of focus and becomes a textured, blurry image as they embrace passionately. The haziness evokes the gloomy feeling of looking back on a cherished moment that has become a distant, elusive memory.
At the end of the film, the story jumps forward to months later, in the dead of winter, the warm colors of summer are replaced by shades of blue and darkness. The change embodies Elio’s post-romantic gloom and forms a strong visual contrast to that dreamlike summer. The final shot of the film, a long shot of Elio crying in front of the fire, contains another musical callback that evokes a sense of nostalgia in the viewer. The lyrics of the song “Visions of Gideon” written for the film by Sufjan Stevens, repeat the sentence “I loved you for the last time, is it a video?” The question is a bleak admission of a tragic romance that is no longer tangible, but only lives within the confines of Elio’s memories. As the credits begin to roll, the camera remains focused on Elio, as the flickering embers of the fire radiate warmth and light onto his face as he cries. With such a long take, we have to come to terms with the pain this romance has caused him. A summer that felt magical is now tinged with melancholy. Of call me by your nameGuadagnino paints a nostalgic tale of an all-consuming romance, now alive only through bittersweet memories.