Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer
Length: 2hr 12m
(N.B. This review may contain spoilers)
Luca Guadagnino’s third film in his loosely-connected “desire trilogy”, which includes I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015), is less baroque than its predecessors but no less gorgeous. Set “somewhere in Northern Italy” in the early 80s, Call Me By Your Name depicts in lush and sensual detail the initial uncertainty, exhilaration and intoxication of first love.
Based on André Aciman’s novel of the same name, the film takes place in the height of summer at the Perlman family’s summer residence, where Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old piano prodigy, spends his days transcribing music, lolling around the house and reading battered paperbacks by the pool. Elio’s piano proficiency is echoed in the film’s soundtrack, which features elegant piano riffs punctuated by the odd 80s pop hit, as well as two tracks by the master of understated emotion, Sufjan Stevens. Elio is, like many late teenagers, a contradiction: outwardly confident and precocious, chasing the local girls, his sapling torso rarely fully clothed, while inwardly tormented by the ebb and flow of his hormones and desires, unable to be soothed by the cool water of the river.
Interrupting his hot summer languor comes Oliver (Armie Hammer), a grad student
that Elio’s father, a professor of Classics (Michael Stuhlbarg), is hosting for the summer. As tall and sculpted as the statues his father studies, this newcomer is immediately intriguing to Elio. Each as unsure as the other, the pair first share tentative gestures – a quick glance over the dinner table here, a shoulder pat held a beat too long there. Stunning cinematography and music trace their passion as it begins to swell like the fruit on the trees in the Perlmans’ garden, silently yearning to be plucked and feasted upon.
Midway through the film, Elio, Oliver and Elio’s father visit a lake where an ancient statue is being dredged up from the bottom. The men sail out to the middle of the lake where Guadagnino’s camera focuses on its rippling surface, and initially nothing is visible. Soon enough, the statue comes bubbling up from underneath, like Elio and Oliver’s mutual attraction, similarly slowly, gradually, but fully-formed. No longer hiding behind cryptic conversations and gestures, the two now collide with reckless abandon, all too aware of their limited time together. What follows is best seen rather than read about: the film reaches its spectacular crescendo as the lovers try their best to make up for the time they lost to uncertainty, the beautiful portrayal of their summer romance always haunted by the knowledge, both in the viewer and the characters, that it must come to an end.
One of the most refreshing aspects of the film is the attitude of Elio’s parents, omniscient and non-judgemental. A highlight is the breathtakingly tender speech given by Mr. Perlman to Elio near the film’s close on the tragedy of suppressing his feelings – “Don’t make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste”, as touching and emotional as any on-screen monologue of recent years. Similarly, the heart-wrenching final scene alone is sure to land Timothée Chalamet Academy Award consideration. Sensitively acted, lushly shot and with strong direction, Call Me By Your Name is a masterpiece of transcendent love and surely Guadagnino’s best feature to date.