‘Call Me By Your Name’ Wowed the DFF

The CinemaQ gem that impressed audiences at the Denver Film Festival

I’ve seen a lot of queer films – A LOT – and I can’t remember the last time I was so thoroughly impressed as I was by Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of “Call Me By Your Name.” Sure, queer cinema has improved tremendously in the past few years, but the plot devices have remained relatively stagnant: HIV/AIDS, unrequited love, coming out, hustling, activism. We’ve been watching these themes for roughly thirty years, which is precisely why this film is so refreshing.

Screenwriter James Ivory (“A Room With a View,” “Howards End”) adapted the story from the novel of the same name by André Aciman. The adaptation itself is so satisfying. The dialogue you fall in love with in the novel is included in the most important scenes, a move that enhanced the entire experience. The intense prose and lyricism of the dialogue remind the viewer that these are incredibly intelligent people without having to say it directly.

The cinematography throughout the film gives us a view of Italy that the book only hints at. We’ve seen romantic Italian landscapes before, but this feels more local – as if we’re seeing the countryside through the eyes of someone who’s intimately familiar with it. There are certainly camera choices that feel out of place and are difficult to accept as part of the film, but even those only seem to help enhance the psychological state of the main character, Elio.

CMBYN DFF
Photo courtesy of Denver Film Society

Elio is played exquisitely by Timothée Chalamet, who was featured in another big 40th Denver Film Festival presentation, “Lady Bird.” In this film, Chalamet gives the character everything he needs; subtle masculinity, quiet angst, slight anxiety, and the right balance between sensitivity and insensitivity. His intensity, talent, and intelligence shine through as Elio struggles to come to terms with the intense longing he experiences as his relationship with Oliver gets ever more complicated. Chalamet deserves an Oscar nod for the final scene alone.

Armie Hammer plays Oliver, which turned out to be a great, but not perfect, choice. Hammer has the ideal look for Oliver, that classic U.S. American look complete with perfectly coiffed hair and an incredible tan. But there’s something about his delivery throughout the film that left me hoping for more. Oliver has a complicated personality. He needs to be cold and standoffish at times and just as angsty and intense as Elio at other times, but above all, he needs to be cool. I’m sorry, but Armie Hammer is not cool, at least not in the film. He’s charming and lovable, but he’s no Marcello Mastroianni, which makes some of his behaviors throughout the film awkward, like any time he needs to seductive.

Hammer’s awkward moments aside, though, he and Chalamet have a wonderful connection that gives an air of authenticity to the relationship between Elio and Oliver. Their comfort with each other gives the film a full range of emotions without being overbearing. They’re able to joke with and tease each other one minute, then passionate the next, which is perfect since they have such an intense affair.

If you’ve read the book, you’re going to either love or hate the ending. There are a few creative liberties taken throughout the movie–some that make sense for cinema and some that are truly unfortunate–but the ending is one I wholeheartedly agree with. While it’s still connected to the book in a roundabout way, it does just enough to give closure and satisfy the audience’s curiosities.

It’s unfortunate that DFF audiences only got one chance to see this film, but we were lucky to have even had one. “Call Me By Your Name” has been making a big name for itself on the film festival circuit, having already won multiple awards and being written about extensively in queer publications. It’s a testament to the appeal of a good film–when all of its elements come together in a beautiful package you want to never end. To quote Festival Director Britta Erickson, “It hit me at the core.”