‘Call Me By Your Name’: A Bittersweet Tale of Falling in Love for the Very First Time

By Tracy Wang

Though the movie did not walk away from the Golden Globe Awards ceremony with any award, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is still one of the most discussed films lately with its three Golden Globe nominations. This coming-of-age drama film expertly captures the lazy days in an Italian countryside in the summer, and the blooming romance and sensibility of its main two male characters. Based on the book of the same name by James Ivory, the film embarks on a journey to acquaint with love, sexuality and romance, and the effect is shockingly heartwarming and tastes much like a bittersweet drink.

Set in the summer of 1983, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a seventeen-year-old Jewish American boy, is again in the Italian countryside with his parents (father being a professor of archeology). That year, his parents invite an American Jewish graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) over to help his father with academic paperwork as well as some local archeology research. A man who is filled with confidence of a mature man, Oliver immediately adapts to the local countryside life, and becomes the focal point of Elio’s family. A boy that is grappling with his sexuality and romantic relationship, Elio is attracted to Oliver, and his days become a journey of learning how to live with the feelings he has for Oliver. Slowly, the two become much closer, and Elio bravely expresses his feelings to Oliver. Will Oliver accept his feelings? Will they be able to stay together when the summer ends?

A coming-of-age story, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is likely one of the most romantic films. Filled with sensual desires, lover’s longing for each other, and the abruptness of a summer affair, the film presents a visual feast of Italian scenery and Elio and Oliver’s blooming relationship. The surface narrative seems simple enough, with a seventeen-year-old boy developing feelings for a much older male; however, what lays underneath is a multitude of layers of messages surrounding the concept of love and relationship.

Elio’s relationships with both Oliver and Marzia (Esther Garrel) shows not only the fluidity of sexuality, but also adds element of uncertainty to complement this coming-of-age story. What we receive is a boy still figuring out his sexuality, and the uncertainty of who to choose and who to love mirrors perfectly with what we have all experienced some time in our lives. The ending continues with the romantic vibe, but it also brings in a taste of reality. A trip to Bergamo signifies the height of their romantic relationship, but Oliver’s inevitable return to America adds a much stronger dose of bitterness and sadness to the whole drama film.

When Oliver calls Elio during Hanukkah, and informs him of his engagement with a woman in the United States, the story finally lifts from the dreamy Italian countryside, and allows the much bigger picture of reality and societal norm to set in. What does it mean that Oliver chooses to create a life with someone else, especially a woman? This question seems to lose its significance when they again call each other by their respective names, as if their names are etched into each other’s heart. As Elio stares into the fireplace after the phone call, we too set into a state of stagnation and reflection along with Elio.

The whole film feels much like a beautiful dream that is rudely interrupted, but the romantic texture and the salute to love make it into a film that is interestingly fitting for a holiday vibe. After all, what can be more heartwarming and soothing than a seventeen-year-old tasting the bittersweetness of love for the first time?