Camera as Character: How 'Call Me by Your Name' Puts You in the Scene

How did the camera add an extra character to every scene? 

One love story echoed throughout 2017 and captured the hearts and minds of a generation. That movie was Call Me By Your Name, a touching romance about crushes, forbidden love, and intimacy. The movie was directed by Luca Guadagnino and stars Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. 

It's one of those movies that makes you feel like you're in the room with the characters, almost a voyeur in their love story...like you're spying on something you should not see.

And that effect was intentional and carefully crafted by Guadagnino and DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Video essayist Fabian Broeker actually breaks down the intriguing way Call Me By Your Name uses camera movement and lens focus to engineer this feeling in the audience, so let's go over how it was achieved and how the camera brought an extra presence into every shot.

Let's Talk About Presence in Call Me By Your Name

One of the things I truly appreciated about Call Me By Your Name was how slow and deliberate the story was allowed to unfold. There was so much tension and longing that by the end you were dying of heartbreak when the brief fling ends because you, along with the characters, had been starved so long. 

That kind of storytelling is masterful. 

Guadagnino directed and James Ivory wrote the screenplay based on the novel by André Aciman. Together, they wove a story of passion and coming of age perfectly. I have to admit, I was already primed to love this movie. As an assistant in Hollywood, I spent a ton of time with Gudagnino as he prepped and made A Bigger Splash and a commercial for Ferragamo. He was charming, hilarious, and really fun to be around on set. 

That kind of environment bodes well, especially when you have to get people comfortable for a movie about desire at a time where homosexuality wasn't as openly embraced as it is today. 

Aside from the way Guadagnino handles his sets, there's also the idea of perspective or POV. 

Call Me By Your Name frequently drifts into the handheld camera, so we feel like we are in the scenes with the guys. 

So how did he come up with that way to shoot the movie? 

Take a look at these two quotes below. 

What I find most interesting here is that we do not have invisible camera work in this movie. We have the presence of a camera. One that puts us on edge and asks if we should be denying these two individuals their privacy. 

In that way, the movie is subtly advocating a person's right to love who they want, but it's also bringing the audience into the love story. 

We get brushed past, we lose focus, we're interacted with as an object in the world of Call Me By Your Name

There is no façade of narrative, there is the emphasis of reality. 

This crack in the narrative illusion makes us both a part of the movie and reconfigures moments of intimacy. We give them space and imagine how they will use it. 

As Guadagnino positions the camera, the further we get from the characters the more intimate we feel the scene might be. That's a paradox and antithetical to what we know about filmmaking, but it works here because the camera is given a distinct POV. 

In fact, the entire movie is shot on only one 35mm lens by Mukdeeprom and the mission was to emphasize intimacy and reality with every frame. 

We get so caught up in Hollywood's "how did they do that" that I often think we forget the best part of cinema is living with people and having that connection. That does not need grandeur to be achieved...sometimes it just needs a gentle touch. 

So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.     

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