There are films you watch, and there are films you connect with, and then there are those rare films that watch, connect with you, and haunt you. I cannot remember the last time I saw a movie more than once at the cinemas – this one I saw three times in a span of five days.
When Andre Aciman’s book first came out about ten years ago, I already fell in love with it. I remember giving it to friends as Christmas gifts because I thought it alone was a gift. I had doubts as to how the lyrical aspect of the book would be translated to the big screen. But Luca Guadigno has made a film that is art filled with art, and the lyrical tone has been captured perfectly by James Ivory, who wrote the screenplay.
So let me count the ways of what makes this film beautiful. First, the wondrous performance by Timothee Chalamet as Elio. I cannot recall a performance so committed, so worn in. I have seen countless interviews with Chalamet now and it seems that Elio is very far removed from his reality, yet in my warped sense of reality, he will always be Elio. Everything in his performance is perfection, and we actually get to see a transformation on screen – of a young man going from confusion to giving in to how he feels; of a young man graduating from his books and music to experiencing life and love as real as it is expressed through those arts, and of someone jumping from naivete to heartbroken, all in a span of 132 minutes. I know he is getting acclaim for his performance here, but I hope he gets the highest acclaim he can.
And, Chalamet’s chemistry with Armie Hammer’s Oliver id palpable. I have some doubts myself about Hammer’s casting (In the book, Oliver is 24, and Hammer reads on screen as someone older) but perhaps that’s just nitpicking. Hammer gives the performance of his career here – he has never been more real, vulnerable, alive. He has the tendency to appear wooden and bland from his previous roles, but here I think I can actually his heart beating beneath his Star of David necklace. And Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue at the end of the film is already legendary, and that message encapsulates what the film is all about. We have said the phrase ‘love is love’ over and over again, but here we get to see and feel those words.
And above all, this film awakens all emotions. We get to reminisce the feeling of when we first fall in love, we get to revisit the heartbreak of that, too. I have always thought that in love there is always pain, and I have always celebrated that pain. Sometimes in the dreariest of days, the pain is what reminds us that we are alive – that we are still normal, breathing people, and pain will always remind us of that. So indeed, perhaps I am one of those people who will always want to feel the pain of heartbreak. This film has a lot of joy, but it’s its pain that resonates with me, and will stay with me.
I can go on and on and on about this, but i will practice what I like most about the film – its restraint. Guadagnino is wise to dial down when things could be overtly sentimental. Can you imagine that train scene in the hands of a less-nuanced director? Even the intimate scenes seem to be shier, focusing more on the intimacy than the salaciousness. he holds, back, the film holds back, because when you do, you give out more.
I have already described this film as haunting. I fear for me, it will do so for the rest of my life.