Our writers pick their favourite scenes from the first half of Call Me by Your Name and write about what makes them great. This is an excerpt from the ebook Call Me by Your Name: A Special Issue. To read the complete list, get the ebook here.
Keep up with the best socially progressive hidden gems of international cinema with The Seventh Row Newsletter. The newsletter features exclusive content and recommendations you won’t find on the website.
At Seventh Row, we dedicate ebooks only to films we’re really passionate about, and that we feel provide a lot to write on. This is the case with Call Me by Your Name: even with six feature articles on the film, which are now part of the ebook Call Me by Your Name: A Special Issue, there’s still so much we love about Luca Guadagnino’s latest that couldn’t fit neatly into multiple essays. So we asked a group of our writers to pick some of their favourite scenes and explore what it is they love about them.
In this part 1 we’ll be dissecting six scenes from the first half of the film, ordered chronologically. Click here for five more in part 2.
1. Apricot etymology
In André Aciman’s novel, and in the finished film, the moment where Oliver (Armie Hammer) explains to Michael Stulhbarg’s Mr. Perlman the origins of the word “apricot” is an opportunity for Oliver to showcase his intelligence, and to wow Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his family.
There are multiple layers to Call Me by Your Name’s charm, but what makes this scene unique is its emphasis on intelligence as a turn on. Maybe because I am a former English major, but there’s something so intoxicating about watching a man as good-looking as Hammer break down the etymology of a word, citing its origins in Greek and Arabic. Be sure to look at Elio’s face the entire time, as he just sits there, mystified by this burst of knowledge, before settling into a bemused happiness. In this moment, Oliver has proven he is on par with Elio on an educational level, and is a touch haughty, his need to refute his more educated professor revealing a touch of arrogance. Based on Elio’s facial expressions, this is exciting to him; he’s found a person worthy of his affection. But the man who steals the show is Mr. Perlman, his contented nod of agreement with Oliver’s remarks doubling as a tacit concession that, yes, Oliver is amazing. – Kristen Lopez
2. “Hitch a nerve?”
What Call Me by Your Name captures so exquisitely is the power of touch and physical distance. This is especially on display during a backyard volleyball game, when Oliver first dares to touch Elio, in the open, for an extended period of time. While watching the game, Elio finds himself enchanted by the athletic Oliver. Guadagnino directs the audience’s gaze at Oliver, too, emphasizing Oliver’s athleticism and body in a way that captures the attention of everyone around him, including Elio’s. In a break from play, Oliver expresses the first sign of a possible affection for Elio by touching his bare skin.
As Elio (and the audience) swoons over Oliver, Oliver immediately grabs the water bottle that Elio has picked up — for someone else — and grabs Elio’s shoulder, too, under the pretext of steadying himself. But the moment culminates with Oliver giving Elio a brief massage; the camera lingers on Chalamet’s face, itself a mixture of confusion and awkwardness with a slight hint of intrigue. It is the first suggestion of a mutual attraction between the pair, the first spark to a candle that threatens to combust by the end. – Kristen Lopez
Read Brandon Nowalk on the coded language Elio and Oliver use in Call Me by Your name, one of six essays in our Special Issue on Call Me by Your Name.
3. Love My Way
There is nothing sexier than seeing a person’s confidence displayed through the act of dancing. The scene that launched a thousand memes (and compelled star Armie Hammer to take a break from social media), Oliver’s dance to the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” is one of Call Me by Your Name’s most indelible moments. It is in this moment that Elio musters up the courage to make his first tentative steps towards attracting Oliver’s attention.
Subjectively filmed from Elio’s perspective, with the low angle camera scanning up at the object of the young boy’s obsession, the sequence captures Oliver in a moment of pure, unencumbered joy. Oliver is completely lost in the music – an impressive feat, considering that Hammer himself didn’t have music to listen to upon filming – and lets down the sophisticated veneer he’s demonstrated up to this point.
The true impact of the scene comes from Elio’s reaction to seeing Oliver dance: he decides to make a move. Up to this moment, Elio has been hesitant to get physically close to Oliver, but at the risk of losing Oliver’s attention to another, Elio musters up the strength to present himself as an equally attractive option for Oliver’s gaze. It is in this moment that Elio finds his own inner confidence. Where Oliver’s dancing is dorky but endearing, Elio’s movements have a borderline choreographic quality to them, like a mating dance, of sorts.'Seeing them literally dance around their feelings for each other is as charged as it's entertaining.'Click To Tweet
A sense of mirroring plays out between the two men, as they literally dance around each other. Both are acting out a means of enticement, but their gaze is pointed in opposite directions: Oliver is focused on himself, and attracting women, whereas Elio wants to catch Oliver’s eye. And yet, Oliver fails to notice Elio’s efforts – the older man soon dances his way up to others, and away from Elio. Elio is left to wonder whether Oliver failed to notice him because of the excitement of the dance, or if he intentionally refused to acknowledge Elio out of fear. In a movie focused on the push-pull mechanism of relationships, the way these two literally dance around their feelings for each other is as charged as it is entertaining. – Kristen Lopez
Read Orla Smith on Armie Hammer’s performance in Call Me by Your Name, one of six essays in our Special Issue on Call Me by Your Name.
4. “You changed it again!”
The first clip from Call Me by Your Name to hit YouTube in the lead-up to its release is also one of the film’s best scenes: 17-year-old piano prodigy Elio plays three variations on a Bach piece to toy with the object of his affection, Oliver. It’s a microcosm of what makes the film great, right down to the use of some of Guadagnino’s recurring directorial techniques.
The scene actually starts before the YouTube clip does. Sitting outside on a lazy summer afternoon, Elio plays a Bach piece on the guitar, thinking Oliver is asleep. But Oliver stirs, nonchalantly asking him to “play that again”. Seeing his opening, Elio takes the lead in their flirtation for the first time, leading Oliver inside, to the piano, to show off, tease, and finally affectionately give Oliver what he wants.
Guadagnino shot the meat of the scene indoors, in a single take, to keep us in this emotionally charged moment, a technique he uses throughout the film to stretch out time when an event seems particularly intense. Using a wide shot means both Oliver and Elio are visible throughout the scene. We can watch every minor shift in their bodies as they respond to each other.
Buy our Call Me by Your Name Special Issue eBook and relive the film by reading both of our favourite scenes pieces back to back.
Guadagnino keeps Elio in the foreground, but Oliver is still in focus, and his whole body is in view at the back of the frame. Armie Hammer’s 6’5” physique and giant limbs mean Oliver can take up a lot of space, and Hammer allows him to stretch out. Standing by the table at the entranceway, he bridges the entire gap of space between the piano and Elio, in the background, as he leans on an adjacent chair. It’s a somewhat sculptural pose, reflecting the images of those Hellenic men from the film’s title sequence.'It's teasing, clever, and charged with sexual tension, the musical equivalent of a screwball comedy.'Click To Tweet
As Joanna Di Mattia points out in her feature on Timothée Chalamet’s performance, words are futile devices for Elio when it comes to expressing his feelings for Oliver. Here, Elio does with music what Beatrice and Benedick do with words: he’s bantering with Oliver. It’s teasing and clever and charged with sexual tension, the musical equivalent of a fast-talking screwball comedy. By reinventing the Bach piece thrice, Elio shows off his wit without having to verbalize it. He’s both nervous and cocky here, exaggerating his movements. It’s noticeably more performative than when he played for his parent’s friends a previous evening.
The scene shows Elio both at his most exasperating — teasing Oliver by not playing quite what he’d been asked to, refusing to turn and engage with Oliver directly — and his most tender. When Oliver throws his hands up and walks out the door, Elio lures him back in by playing the original tune as sweetly and tenderly as possible. Now, he keeps looking back at Oliver, to check that he’s having the desired effect. He is.
Throughout the film, Guadagnino makes us aware that much is going on just outside of Elio’s view. We see Oliver’s every reaction, which Elio can only sense. When Oliver leaves the room — and our view — we are aware of just how delicate a balance Elio must strike, toying with him without losing him. There’s a world outside, elsewhere, for Oliver, and he’s not afraid to leave for it. The scene ends almost prematurely. Elio finishes playing and explaining what he’s done; Oliver takes a breath, about to speak — and we cut. – Alex Heeney
Read Alex Heeney on how Guadagnino stretches and elongates time in Call Me by Your Name, including in this scene, in one of six essays in our Special Issue on Call Me by Your Name.
5. “You know what things.”
On one of their many trips into Crema together, Elio and Oliver bike into the town square and come to a stop by a World War I memorial. After weeks spent silently desiring Oliver under the lazy summer sun, Elio makes the decision to confess that his feelings run deeper than the friendship the two have established through mutual interests in music and literature. It is a turning point in the film: up until now, Elio and Oliver could have easily dismissed their playful flirtations as displays of platonic companionship. Elio’s confession crosses a threshold, with no chance of return.
Guadagnino uses music in Call Me by Your Name to externalise Elio’s emotions. Earlier in the film we see Elio playing “Une barque sur l’ocean” on the piano. The arching of his back and writhing of his feet reveal that this music means much more to him than simply sounds coming from a series of pressed keys. The swirling piano tune — both restless and soothing — embodies the desire he feels for Oliver. He enjoys languishing in the painfully potent feelings it induces, but all that passionate energy has nowhere to go but in circles. He decides: now is the time for some forward motion.
Guadagnino does not cut away as Elio finally confronts Oliver about his feelings while they walk around the memorial. The unbroken take traps Elio, echoing the way he forces himself to go through with his decision to confess. It begins simply, with a display of the kind of casual intimacy friends share: Oliver places a pack of cigarettes in Elio’s backpack without asking, and Elio barely notices. Then, Elio attempts to push their friendship further towards romance. They begin to circle the memorial, separating onto opposite sides. We stay with Elio and watch Oliver slowly become a distant figure, his face (half-hidden by sunglasses) growing more inscrutable. “Is there anything you don’t know?” Oliver asks, impressed by Elio’s easy recalling of historical facts. “I know nothing, Oliver”. Chalamet lowers his voice, making it clear Elio is steering the conversation into serious territory. Oliver stares straight ahead for a moment, delaying his response as he processes Elio’s intentions. Guadagnino’s camera offers him no help by cutting away from his face, instead watching him hesitate as he calculates his nonchalance. Oliver deflects: “Well you seem to know more than anyone else around here.”'The music fades in whenever Elio is able to enjoy experiencing longing without having to act on it.'Click To Tweet
“Une barque sur l’ocean” (non-diegetic this time) fades in whenever Oliver isn’t watching Elio, and Elio is able to enjoy the feeling of longing without having to act on it. By allowing us to luxuriate in the music during moments of anticipation rather than action, Guadagnino communicates the pleasure Elio takes from experiencing longing. When Elio is locked in conversation with Oliver though, the only sound is the muted bustle of the town square, and the silence between words. There is no music through which he can purge his feelings. He is left stranded, and faced with the frightening prospect of acting on his desire. But with the question his mother posed to him the night before still ringing in his ears — “Is it better to speak or to die?” — he proceeds despite his fear. “If you only knew how little I know about the things that matter,” Elio blurts out. Now that it’s in the open, Oliver can no longer pretend not to know what he means. Elio’s anxious fidgeting stops; he relaxes in the knowledge that there’s no going back. What he wants is on the table. It’s on Oliver now.
Exposing his own feelings gives Elio power over Oliver. Elio is not embarrassed, which he may have feared beforehand. Rather, it is Oliver who is made to feel small. When they reconvene at the other side of the memorial, Oliver deflects once more: he cannot deny the meaning behind Elio’s words, so instead he leaves to go into a nearby building and pick up pages of his manuscript, making Elio wait for his answer to the unspoken question that hangs between them. Up until this point, Oliver has been defined by a confident swagger and self-assurance, but his reaction to Elio’s confession reveals that there are some things he’s not brave enough to face up to.
When Oliver returns, his attempts to change the subject are once again derailed by Elio: “Does this mean we’re on speaking terms but not really?” Elio sees right through the social niceties that Oliver uses to shield himself from confronting his feelings. Elio bikes away from the scene ahead of Oliver, taking the lead for the first time. – Orla Smith
Read Alex Heeney on how Call Me by Your name recalls the experience of first love in one of six essays in our Special Issue on Call Me by Your Name.
6. “Sit for a second.”
Another hot summer day somewhere in Northern Italy; another morning spent riding bikes into town. At lunch, Elio’s nose bleeds. Maybe he’s shocked by his own boldness in daring to confess his feelings to Oliver and to kiss him earlier that day, or confused and unsure about what happens next. Maybe he’s overcome by how much he wants more kissing. Elio leaves the lunch table, and Oliver’s the only person remotely concerned: repeatedly looking towards the house, anxious for his return. He’s worried that maybe he’s caused this. Unable to take it anymore, he excuses himself and heads inside where he finds Elio seated in a corner, icing his nose. “Sit for a second,” Elio asks Oliver, before declaring, “I’m a mess.”'Where words fail, touch is CALL ME BY YOUR NAME's language for communicating how characters feel.'Click To Tweet
Here is a scene that extends Elio’s and Oliver’s slow dance towards each other throughout the film, a scene in which both say so much while saying very little. It’s a transitional scene; it gives Elio and Oliver a chance to sit and take stock of where they are. The framing and blocking tell most of the story. Luca Guadagnino’s camera traps Elio and Oliver in the corner of the room, placing us right there alongside them. The camera stays low — it’s a private space and a private moment unfolds. Elio places an outstretched leg on top of Oliver’s legs, and Oliver, without missing a beat, takes Elio’s foot in his hands and massages it. This, he tells him, is what his Jewish grandmother would do for him when he was sick. But there is both pleasure and pain in the act for Elio. “You’ll fucking kill me if you do that,” he says, aware of how much he’s risking. And Oliver, his desire increasingly exposed, says gently, “I hope not.”'By touching Elio, Oliver tells him how he really feels. Elio's fingers reciprocate, and talk back.'Click To Tweet
Where words often fail, touch is Call Me by Your Name’s primary language for communicating how characters feel. By touching Elio, Oliver tells him how he really feels. Elio’s fingers reciprocate, and talk back. He reaches out to touch Oliver’s face, lingering erotically over his neck. It’s a touch that says ‘thank you’ for your kindness as much as it says ‘I want you.’ Elio’s fingers eventually find Oliver’s Star of David necklace, pointing out that he used to have one, too, but that he no longer wears it because his family are “Jews of discretion”. (Later that afternoon, we will see him swimming at the river and that he has found his necklace and is wearing it again.)'Elio's and Oliver's entire relationship is built on the twin pillars of desire and compassion.'Click To Tweet
Elio’s and Oliver’s entire relationship is built on the twin pillars of desire and compassion; this stolen, sensual moment illuminates just how closely they coexist. With the foot massage, Oliver administers a balm and expresses tremendous tenderness. He and Elio fuse their bond — over their shared Jewishness, and the secret desire that now binds them. Oliver’s foot massage is certainly brotherly and familial, but it is also explicitly the act of a lover in waiting, keen to touch more. While Oliver put an end to their kissing earlier that day, a final kiss on Elio’s foot before he exits the frame confirms his interest. Such an affectionate, sexy gesture reveals that Oliver is falling for every single part of Elio. And in the intimately entwined formation of their bodies within this secluded corner, we see the birth of Elio’s and Oliver’s burning attachment — the indistinct tangle of limbs they will become once they finally sleep together. – Joanna Di Mattia
Buy our Call Me by Your Name Special Issue eBook and gain access to this issue the way it was meant to be read.