Words are futile devices, as a character says, in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. With very little dialogue, the filmmaker relies heavily on colours to convey the overarching themes of first love, heartbreak and discovering oneself, as well as to accentuate a character’s nature, his/her mood, and what he/she is going through in a particular scene.
The film has a predominantly green background, be it the lush green trees and grasses, or the sea-green water in the pool, or Oliver’s green car, or his trunks and shirts, or Elio’s bed, or the dark green windows, furniture and telephone in the Perlman house. The heavy use of ‘green’ immediately transports you to the summer of 1983 in Northern Italy. The summer season is symbolic of growth and new beginnings and in this film, it is symbolic of Elio’s acceptance of himself, his first love and forming a beautiful bond with Oliver. Just like the summer, the colour green is associated with hope, renewal and a need for growth. In the opening scene of the film, Oliver (Armie Hammer) enters wearing a blue shirt in a green car, and Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Marzia (Esther Garrel) look at him from his balcony. The first scene, dominated by green, establishes the mood of the film and is symbolic of a new beginning in Elio’s life.
Oliver’s blue shirt is symbolic of his confidence and maturity. He is self-assured, speaks his mind and has figured out his preferences, be it the number of eggs he wants to eat or why he must not eat at all. Besides that, he wears the Star of David pendant, a marker of his Jewish identity and has no second thoughts about it, even though his family is the only Jewish family back in his hometown. Nonchalantly, he walks into a random restaurant and plays cards with old men; he dances with strangers like no one’s watching, whether it’s on a dance floor or a street. Elio, on the other hand. is the complete opposite. He is a shy, unsure boy with low self-esteem who keeps to himself. Mostly quiet, he often thinks intensely and scribbles his thoughts on his notebook. He takes off his Star of David pendant at his mother’s instructions and is quite in awe when he sees Oliver wearing it and embracing his Jewish roots. He does not like himself and thinks Oliver dislikes him too. He hesitates to play piano for the guests but when Oliver asks him to play, he feels that maybe Oliver does like him. For the first time, he plays different versions of the same tunes with much enthusiasm and joy and speaks his mind, too. This scene suggests that Elio is beginning to express himself.
In one scene, Oliver, wearing a blue shirt, is on the dance floor with another woman, while Elio who is also wearing a blue t-shirt, looks at them with jealousy against a dark green background. After some time, he also gets up and dances along with Marzia. His confident dance moves are far from his underconfident self. Elio’s blue t-shirt, too, is symbolic of him trying to be as confident as Oliver, while the green in the background conveys both his jealousy and his feelings for him. The next day, they both accompany Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) to Sirmione, where some ancient sculptures were being brought out of the sea. The three men, dressed in blue, go in a blue car to the site. They spend some time looking at the sculptures, swimming and enjoying each other’s company. The colour ‘blue’ is associated with freedom, open spaces and serenity, and the visuals of them in blue shirts, against the blue sea and the blue sky, is also symbolic of the ice breaking between Elio and Oliver. It seems as if Elio has let go of all his insecurities and is living in that moment.
The first time Elio expresses his feelings, not quite explicitly, to Oliver, they are both wearing white. After sometime, they explore the city on their white bicycles and Elio shares a part of himself with Oliver: the pool by which he reads books all by himself. Later in the scene, they share their first kiss and their white t-shirts stand out against an all-green background. The colour white is associated with purity and perfection, and this particular moment is symbolic of the innocence and purity in their bond. For Elio, the world does seem complete and perfect. The same day, Elio is seen wearing his Star of David pendant. When Oliver is out of town, his young lover stays up all night waiting for him. When Oliver gets too busy with his work, he feels abandoned. To not feel the pain, he goes out to meet Marzia. In this scene, both Elio and Marzia are seen wearing a white and pink combination. They are both young and playful, and the colours, white and pink, are symbolic of their sweet innocent bond. They have a lot in common, be it reading books or their shy and introverted nature or being open and vulnerable in front of their respective lovers or being afraid of getting hurt. Elio sees a reflection of himself in Marzia.
The last scene of the film jumps to winter and it’s snowing outside. Elio gets a phone call from Oliver. He tells Elio that he got engaged and that he could never tell his father about their relationship. With this news, even the slightest possibility of them meeting again like old times becomes bleak. A heartbroken Elio, dressed in white and black, sits at the fireplace, staring at it, against a black background. The winter season and the stark colours in this scene, white and black, are symbolic of the hopelessness and despair in Elio’s life. The film ends with him still staring at the fireplace and wondering (via the soundtrack), is it a video? Like a video, he can remember the moments but he can never experience it again.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.