Call Me By Your Name, 2017.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Starring Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg and Esther Garrel.
An American professor and his family are spending the summer at their Italian villa. His teenage son is captivated by the graduate student who arrives to work for his father. It’s a fascination that becomes mutual and grows into a love neither of them will ever forget.
Call Me By Your Name could so easily have been chosen for the Love Gala at this year’s London Film Festival, but they opted for On Chesil Beach instead. Whether it was the right decision remains to be seen, but director Luca Guadagnino’s story of the delicious agony of first love comes with a pedigree, although it doesn’t make a song and dance about it.
It’s written and produced by James Ivory. Yes, THE James Ivory. He who, along with Ishmael Merchant, created some of the best films of the 80s, usually costume dramas and often based on the novels of E M Forster. In recent years he’s been comparatively quiet and this is the first film he’s been involved with for a number of years in any capacity. But it looks like he’s having an Indian summer: he’s directing Richard II, which is in pre-production, and has three producing projects on the go, including The Aspern Papers. Call Me By Your Name echoes of one of the best known of his collaborations with Merchant, A Room with a View. That’s not just because of its Italian setting. It’s a love story, one about stumbling your way to love and one about people from a privileged class.
It’s the early 80s – you can tell from the way that teenager Elio (Timothee Chalamet) listens to his music and the glimpse of a poster for Tootsie in the local town – and it’s the height of summer. Elio and his family – his father is a professor and his mother a translator – are at their summer home in Italy. Every year an intern comes to work for his father and this time round it’s Oliver (Armie Hammer), who’s also writing his doctorate. He’s older than Elio and, despite trying to resist, the teenager is fascinated by him. It becomes mutual and grows into a love that changes their lives.
For Elio, this is a first love brimming with pain and hesitancy, even if there are times when he appears to be far more mature than he actually is. All these feelings, these desires, are new to him, whereas for Oliver they’re familiar and, as we see, he is almost as much interested in girls. He keeps his interest in members of his own sex secret – a case of the love that dare not speak his name or, as in the film’s analogy, the prince who would not speak what was in his heart. It is, after all, set in a time when being openly gay was only starting to become more acceptable and attitudes were a long way from where they are now.
Guadagnino (who also directed A Bigger Splash) and his cinematographer, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) make wondrous use of that unmistakable Italian sunlight and its ability to turn even the most ordinary of colours into something exotic and sensual. Fruit, in particular, which everybody eats with relish – apricots, apples, peaches ……You can almost smell them on the screen. The photography plays with it against cooler shadows and night-time light, and it all looks so natural.
A seductive and sensual movie, Call Me By Your Name is inevitably romantic, but don’t expect a weepy. The tears are confined to the screen, to the final shot of Elio as he stares into the fire while the credits roll down one side of the screen. But you hardly notice them: you’re transfixed by his changing expressions, his efforts to hold back the tears and ignore what’s going on behind him. It’s only when somebody attracts his attention and he looks away that the spell is eventually broken.
Call Me By Your Name is screened at the 61st London Film Festival on October 9th, 10th and 11th. It is released in cinemas on October 27th.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★