Oscar 2018: Best Actor–Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Mark Your Ballots: Timothee Chalamet, Best Actor Frontrunner

Timothee Chalamet renders an astonishingly fresh, quietly subtle, and impressively multi-nuanced performance in the gay tale of first love in Call Me By Your Name.

Breakthrough Actor Award

Update, Nov 27–Timothee Chalamet received the breakthrough actor award for his performance in “Call Me By Your Name,” a gay love story set in Italy directed by Luca Guadagnino. 

“A big and tall thank you to my dance partner Armie Hammer for being so god damn talented,” Chalamet said about his onscreen co-star.

Please read my interview with Chalamet below

Chalamet, 21, is a major talent to watch.  This season, he scores twice. He gives an equally strong performance in Greta Gerwish’s superb indie, Lady Bird, albeit in a supporting role, as Sairose Ronan’s suitor.

Context is crucial: “Call Me By Your Name” is set in Italy during one long hot summer of 1983.

Chalamet plays Elio, a bright, horny teenager, age 17, who yearns for and then discovers the meaning (and pain) of first love upon meeting his father’s research assistant, Oliver, a handsome, bright post-doctorate, around 24 (played beautifully by Armie Hammer).

Though the age difference is only 7 years, at that particular age phase, especially in the case of Elio, it makes a huge difference.

Controversy–to be Avoided

By US standards, Elio is minor, but I hope that his age will not become a controversial issue, preventing audiences from watching this sublime film (on my Ten Best already), for several reasons.  First, it is set in Italy, where sexual mores are different.  Second, the two explicit sex scenes are consensual–in fact, Elio initiates the first move, and is rejected several times until the yearning is actually consummated. Third, Many people believe that 21, the legal age for sexual intercourse, is totally unrealistic.  According to a study conducted by Time magazine, the average age of sex in the US is around 14-15, and this includes both gay and straight, male and female, teenagers.

Extremelt bright, even reccocious, Elio speaks multiple langguages, often combining English, French and Italian in the same sentence.

He also reads a lot (there’s almost always a book and a pencil in his hand), often outdoors in the woods, by himself.  Elio also plays piano well, often in a bathing suit or trunks, and not only when he wants too; his father commands him to play the for some guests, and he reluctantly agrees.

He renders  a natural, subtle, highly complicated and complex performance, as a boy who struggle with his sexual identity.  Like many teenagers his age, he goes out with girls and makes out with them, but clearly his mind, body and soul are elsewhere.

Erotic Tensions: Manifest and Latent

As soon as Oliver arrives, intense erotic tensions between the two guys arise but they are at first latent, forbidden feelings that cannot be expressed verbally, but are manifest through intense looks (when Oliver goes to the bathroom, or changes into a bathing suit, or touches Elio on the shoulder).  At night, Elio stares at Oliver while he is asleep, highly attentive to the comings and goings of Oliver, who sometimes “disappears” at night, thus missing the nightly dinners, which are both routine and ceremonious.

At a crucial disco scene, Elio watches Oliver intently and intensely as he dances wildly, letting go completely of his more polite and mannered conduct in his encounters with Elio’s father.  Soon, Elio hits the dance floor himself, throwing himself in abandonment into the music and ambience, pretending to ignore Oliver’s presence (also loose and wild in its own way), just feet away from him.

The film achieves greatness in suggesting both the specific and universal elements of erotic yearning and then first love.  I think any teenager on the verge of both coming of age and/or coming out, must has experienced Elio’s contradictory feeling strong desire but deep fear, eagerness to explore his true sexuality while worried about the consequences, wishing to make the first move but concerned about being rejected and humiliated.

How Did Chalamet work on his Role?

Chalamet arrived five weeks early before shooting began.  “I jumped into Italian lessons for an hour and a half a day, piano lessons for an hour and a half a day, guitar lessons for an hour and a half a day and gym workouts three times a week,” the actor says.

While the actor had six years of piano experience and a year of guitar before making the film, he worked with Crema-based composer Roberto Solci to boost his performance to Elio’s virtuoso level of play.

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer appear in Call Me by Your Name by Luca Guadagnino, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Feel for European Small Town Life

The New York-based actor spent his youthful summers at his grandmother’s house in Le Chambonsur-Lignon, France, and had a feeling for what European small town life was like.  But he knew that the 1980s Italian version would be different.

He was able to make friends with young people from Crema who didn’t know he was an actor, and looked to Guadagnino for guidance about the period.

Speaking Italian–Crucial

Chalamet is fluent in French and was able to understand basic Italian, he had no Italian language training before his arrival in Crema. “Along with the piano, speaking Italian was crucial for me because it was a native tongue for Elio and I wanted to get it down to what it would have been for him,” he says.

Intimacy and Chemistry

Chalamet was the first person Armie Hammer met. “I heard somebody practicing piano, and they said, ‘Oh, that’s Timmy!’ and I said ‘I want to meet him!’”

The two actors became inseparable in the weeks leading up to shooting. “We rode bikes, we listened to music, we talked, we went to meals, we hung out in many of the same places you see us in the movie,” says Hammer. After shooting commenced, the two rehearsed their scenes every night before shooting. The intimacy and chemistry that became palpable on screen grew out of the closeness the two actors developed in real life.

Slow Burn

The story focuses on the steps forward and backward between Elio and Oliver before their relationship finally becomes physical.  Anticipation through an unhurried buildup is common in Guadagnino’s films. “I like a slow burn,” he says.

Universal Game of Cat and Mouse, Push and Pull

“It’s the universally relatable game of cat and mouse and push and pull that occurs between people that are attracted to one another but have suspicions and insecurities about whether the other holds the same level of attraction. They also have trepidations because they aren’t in a time period or a location that is accepting or encouraging of them having an intimate relationship.”

For producer Spears, Guadagnino’s measured pace is key to the way the film engages the senses. “There’s an American tendency, whether it’s in movies or TV, to race to the finish line. But Luca slows the pace down and makes you experience everything—the smell, the sound, the touch, the taste. When you connect with all of those things, you’re really going to feel it and you’re not going to forget it.”

Summers in the 1980s

There is a scene where Elio and Oliver stop for a drink of water while they are out biking.  This scene serves no obvious narrative purpose, and it is the kind of sequence a different filmmaker might have cut. “This was one of our favorite scenes,” says editor and Guadagnino collaborator Walter Fasano. “First, because it evoked the typical lounging and easy and lazy feeling of  summers in the 1980s.

Tribute to Bertolucci

“And second, that particular moment reminded us of moments in Bertolucci’s 1900, which was shot in the same geographical area. Obviously when you deal with these kind of things, you must be very careful not to be self-indulgent, because you can be.  At the same time, when you rush, you are losing something.”

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