Call Me By Your Name, 2017.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Amira Casar.
It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian boy, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favour him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendour of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.
Of all the images pregnant with meaning in Call Me By Your Name, the most affecting might be the most discreet: a clunky 80s Casio watch, previously tethered to the hand of our teenage protagonist, quietly put aside during a moment of erotic passion. It’s emblematic of the whole of I Am Love director Luca Guadagnino’s luminous new drama, a moving account of the mysterious transition from no-longer-a-child to not-quite-adult.
Adapted by James Ivory from André Acamin’s acclaimed novel the movie is aglow with both emotional possibility and the ravishing, sun-kissed landscapes of northern Italy where the story takes place. Our main character is Elio, played with sublime sensitivity by exceptionally talented young star Timothee Chalamet. Bookish and intelligent, the movie finds Elio at that crucial watershed moment where academic knowledge, for the moment, trumps emotional wisdom. The son of kindly professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Annella (Amira Casar), formed in Elio’s words of ‘atypical’ American-Italian-French-Jewish stock, he spends his days at his parents’ majestic villa reading, re-arranging Bach staples at the piano and swimming in the lake with locals.
During one fateful summer in 1983, Elio comes face to face with his father’s latest research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome specimen who sends local tongues a flutter (‘he’s better than the one they had last year’ goes the opinion). Self-assured, lusty and brash (his departure from dinner is always accompanied with a brusque ‘later’), Oliver appears to be the direct reflection of the classical, ageless beauty found in the sculptures that form the basis of Perlman’s research.
One of the film’s great successes resides in how it contrasts the physicality of the two men, Oliver’s self-contained, confident Adonis the polar opposite of Elio’s gangly, rangy teenage frame and burning hormones. A hesitant friendship soon develops followed by something much deeper and more romantic, the hazy, intoxicating depiction of young love aided enormously by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s gorgeous cinematography that at several points intentionally moves out of focus as if drunk on the same toxic euphoria as the characters themselves.
The palpable chemistry of the two lead actors and the supple nature of the filmmaking goes some way towards staving off the criticisms (including those made by Ivory himself) that the movie is coy and timid with regards to its depictions of male nudity and sexuality. Certainly there’s nothing here to rival the raw physicality of British offering God’s Own Country, but there’s no denying the sincerity and conviction with which it’s played. Just like God’s Own Country, this movie dares to imagine a world in which inclusivity and acceptance take precedence over ignorance, and is all the more radiant for it.
Even the stillness of two people heading into the hazy distance on a bike ride becomes suffused with a profound melancholic weight, aided and abetted by an eclectic sound design that mixes bursts of classical, piano-led turbulence with 80s Europop synth pastiche (including unreleased numbers from Sufjan Stevens) and, even more significantly, the ever-present sounds of nature itself, an all-consuming yet inexplicable force that serves to drive the two main characters together for reasons they cannot comprehend. It all serves as a contradictory, lyrical, funny and poignant account of growing pains. As is explained at one crucial stage, it’s that sweet yet raw mixture of happiness and sadness that gives existence its elusive charge.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★