This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Fraser Hannay’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The first time I saw Call Me by Your Name, I was enchanted by its gorgeous portrait of a summer in Italy, and its achingly bittersweet romance. I was not alone, the film was not only acclaimed in critical circles, but attracted a large audience of young people who weren't typically indie filmgoers. The straight teenage girl obsession with this movie may stem heavily from Timothée Chalamet, but nonetheless, this patient gem has only grown in the years since its release.
Before I had watched the movie, I found the age difference between Chalamet and Hammer off-putting, and so I was somewhat on guard. But the film won me over with its gorgeous cinematography, production design, and authentic performances. For lack of a better work, it was "aesthetic". Then, months later, I began reading some opinions unpacking the more problematic aspects of the film. The more predatory side of the narrative began surfacing through the haze, and I had doubts.
With much of the original viewing having faded from memory, I went in tonight fairly neutral. I was fully expecting to pick up on the dangerous undertones, and even feel uncomfortable. And I did. But not to the discredit of the film.
While Call Me by Your Name is widely adored, in conversations that I've had, I feel as though it's liked by many for the wrong reasons. Or rather, it's liked for more harmful reasons. Once I stopped watching it as a romance movie, and began viewing it as the story of one person, intentionally or not, manipulating and scarring someone else, it just unlocked for me. The performances just worked.
Above all else, the film thoroughly explores the tension between Oliver and Elio, the tension of their age difference, of their taboo relationship, of the brevity of their time together. There's a subtle, but palpable sense of push and pull in every single scene, as Oliver and Elio negotiate that tension between them. What stuck out so clearly was the ways Oliver manipulated Elio, and how Elio was unaware of the situation he was getting himself drawn into. I don't think Oliver is a terrible person, but when considering the entirety of the film, the ripple effect of his presence in Elio's life, a young and vulnerable person, is harmful. The reactions we are shown from Elio after Oliver's departure compared with the lack of reaction shown from Oliver is telling, illustrating that their relationship was not a two-way street. I was amazed at the shockingly subtle filmmaking and acting on display throughout the film when viewed through this context. Every held shot, every touch, every absence felt so emotionally conflicting.
I won't tell anyone how they should watch and enjoy a movie. I understand how some can view Call Me by Your Name as potently romantic, and I also understand how some see it as disturbing and harmful. In a way, I suppose I fall in between. I love it for how it romances you with gorgeous details, drawing you in like Elio, before the undercurrents of manipulation and emotional damage rise to the surface by the film's crushing end. A bitter pill to swallow, but one I feel resonates far deeper than the breathless love story on the film's surface, revealing the tension and risk of every interaction, no matter how brief.