Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Swooningly romantic, sensually filmed tale of the summer love affair between a teenage boy and his dad’s visiting grad-student intern.
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Coming-of-age stories are a longtime staple of cinema, but the coming-of-age depicted in Call Me by Your Name is something truly special and groundbreaking. Italian director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory’s film adaptation of the acclaimed novel by André Aciman is certainly a landmark of gay cinema, but the passionate yearnings it captures have a deep familiarity that will speak to any open-minded viewer. Sensual, delicate and haunting, it’s the love story of the year.

The film, set in 1983, is also an immersive experience, inviting you to spend two highly pleasurable hours in a cultured household in the lush countryside of northern Italy. It’s there that Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), an expert in Greek and Roman antiquities, and his translator wife Annella (Amira Casar) spend their summers and each year invite a graduate student to reside for six weeks as an intern. To make room for him, their 17-year-old son Elio (Timothée Chalamet) must give up his bedroom and move to the storage room next-door. When this summer’s guest, a handsome, blond, 24-year-old American named Oliver (Armie Hammer), arrives, Elio takes an instant dislike to this cocky usurper. Or are there other feelings he doesn’t quite acknowledge?

The sexual tension of the first half of Call Me by Your Name is exquisitely drawn out, surfacing in small details like Oliver giving Elio a sudden, startling (and quickly rebuffed) shoulder massage, or Elio boasting at breakfast that he almost had sex the night before with his childhood friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Very gradually, Elio and Oliver begin to bond; when Oliver expresses interest in the Bach piece Elio is playing on his guitar and the boy proceeds to show off his prodigious piano skill with the same piece, Elio giddily begins to realize that Oliver may actually like him. When his mother reads aloud a story of a knight secretly smitten with a princess who wonders, “Is it better to speak or to die?” Elio works up the courage to obliquely confront Oliver with his feelings, in a marvelous single-take sequence as they circle a battle monument.

But Oliver feels he must tread carefully; he must “be good”—after all, this is an inexperienced teenager he’s attracted to, and his summer boss’ son. And let’s not forget that it’s 1983. But their feelings for each other simply can’t be suppressed; after so much teasing back and forth, they enter an enchanted, ecstatic new phase of their relationship that is all the more heightened because it must end so soon.

Guadagnino, who views his latest as the closing chapter of a “trilogy on desire” that includes his sexy I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, filmed Call Me by Your Name around his home town of Crema, and his feel for the region’s sensual pleasures (abetted by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom) greatly enhances the magical love story he’s telling. That appreciation for nature’s delights even extends to his rendering of the novel’s infamous peach scene; you’ll never look at that fruit in the same way again.

Hammer, the onetime failed Lone Ranger, is every bit the Greek god the movie requires, but he also brings vulnerability, mischief and intelligence to his portrayal of such daunting male beauty. Chalamet is a revelation, capturing all the complex emotions roiling inside his reluctantly obsessed, thrilled and terrified teen protagonist—up to and including his tour-de-force close-up during the end credits. Stuhlbarg is a genial presence throughout, and then floors you with a tremendously moving and profound monologue advising his emotional wreck of a son near the end of the film. You’ll likely share that emotional intensity as the lights go up—and be eager to experience the joys and gorgeous poignancy of Call Me by Your Name once again.

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