Roger Ebert often pointed out that the movies that made him cry weren’t the ones that were supposed to be sad, but rather those that showed the goodness that lies within people. I thought of this as my eyes got a bit teary while watching Call Me By Your Name, a Best Picture nominee, and the most humane and kind movie in a year that featured so many others filled with anxiety and darkness.
Elio is a 17-year-old living with his parents in Italy. His father, an American archaeology professor, takes on a graduate student to live and work with him each summer. This summer, that student is Oliver, tall and attractive, and seemingly entirely confident. Though Elio appears to bristle at Oliver’s breezy attitude, they find themselves spending more and more time together, and, yes, they fall in love.
The movie has a measured pace, allowing everything to unfold in its own time, set in the golden glow of slow days in the Italian summer. Elio’s experience is an unfolding of his sexuality, but it’s also an unfolding of his understanding of love. Neither Oliver nor Elio seem to be taking advantage of the other—what they feel appears genuine, even as they’re at first apprehensive about acting on those feelings.
This movie is so much about love, but every bit as important as Elio and Oliver’s connection is the love that Elio’s parents show him. And this is where Call Me By Your Name elevates from a touching romance to a transcendent commentary on humanity and compassion. One extraordinary scene between Elio and his father goes in a direction few other movies would dare, and reveals deep understanding of what it means to love, to accept, and to feel. Call Me By Your Name asks us to feel each part of what it means to love—the heartbreak, the joy, the defeat, the persistence. This is one of the best movies of the year.