Director Luca Guadagnino crafts a seductive soundscape in ‘CALL ME BY YOUR NAME’

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Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Director Luca Guadagnino’s CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is guaranteed to hit audiences on all levels. However, sonically the masterful filmmaker, who’s made such equally marvelous sundrenched films like I AM LOVE and A BIGGER SPLASH, crafts his own brand of warm, sensuous Summer lovin’ courtesy of the music by Sufjan Stevens and The Psychedelic Furs.

Screenwriter James Ivory adapts author Andre Aciman’s touching novel about seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) falling in love with twenty-four-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer) at his parents villa in Northern Italy in the Summer of 1983. It’s a reflective, riveting journey, whose music deepens the first love experience showcased.

At the film’s recent Los Angeles press conference, Guadagnino mentioned he wasn’t particularly interested in telling any sort of traditional story where one character looks back on his fond memories.

The book by Aciman is told in the first person, singular, from the point of view of Elio. It’s a sort of retrospective gaze on the Summer. Personally, I don’t have a big interest in movies where there’s a character telling you what happened in retrospective. I think it’s so boring and yet you receive scripts about that every day.

Nevertheless, he started to creatively concoct how to best approach this technique cinematically. That involved getting an musically poetic voice to match his own poetic cinematic voice. Enter indie music darling, Sufjan Stevens!

I admired the idea about having a narrator. I started to think about having a narrator that’s sort of an omniscient narrator. I realized that was not the case even then, but I thought Sufjan and his voice is poetic voice – a very musical voice – were so strong and such a personality that was parallel to the one in Aciman’s book and to the kind of movie we wanted to make.

Almost a year before we shot, I got in touch with him. We started conversations over the phone that led him to send us three songs – two new songs and one remix of “Futile Devices.” I remember we were together in my house on the afternoon we [motions to Chalamet and Hammer] received the songs and I played them for us. It is really a rarity to experience something like that – to receive some kind of masterpieces. To know that this is going to be something you’re going to use in your movie. It’s incredible. I owe a lot to Sufjan and I love him so much.

Another band’s sonic stylings that reverberate throughout are that of a new wave classic by The Psychedelic Furs. In the film, Oliver and Elio go to a disco and bond on the dance floor over “Love My Way.” That was always the song in the script Ivory had intended they used. Guadagnino elucidated,

I always thought about that because it was a hymn. I think Oliver opened up when he… that’s the first time Elio experiences Oliver in a way that he didn’t completely understand before then. In fact, it’s the close-up of him watching him dancing is so telling.

He also let slip that Hammer, who squirmed a little when I asked him about the hugely popular meme, wasn’t at all into shooting that upbeat dance sequence. Despite that, though, Guadagnino was very happy about celebrating the meme.

Mr. Hammer wasn’t very comfortable shooting the scene. That’s why he’s not very comfortable talking about the meme. But I’m very happy about the meme, Armie. I think it’s fantastic. It’s the best – the best of love!

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME opens on November 24 in limited release.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.