Having seen director Luca Guadagnino’s gorgeously vibrant films I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, I thought I knew what to expect from his latest film, Call Me by Your Name, which focuses on a simmering summertime story of first love in a small-town Italy. Visually, it is every bit as sumptuous and inviting as Guadagnino’s previous work, but what I didn’t expect was how deeply affecting it was going to be.
Based on Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel, which has been adapted for the screen by the great James Ivory, is set during the summer of 1983 and focuses on 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), an Italian-American boy living in a 17th century villa with his parents. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor and his mother (Amira Casar) a translator. Elio is a kid who seems older than he is, spending his days playing classical piano, reading intriguing books and fooling around with his beautiful friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Internally, though, Elio is more attuned to his age — sensitive and a bit confused by feelings that turn into an unexpectedly different sexual awakening when Oliver (Armie Hammer), a summer intern for his father, arrives to spend time at the house. Slowly, despite the age difference, desire starts burning in Elio’s heart, and a unique relationship begins between the pair, neither quite sure where it is heading.
Guadagnino and Ivory play out these events as casually and laid back as the Italian summer in which the story takes place but always with care and sensitivity. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), this becomes a gay romance that has something that everyone who has ever fallen in love for the first time will recognize. As such, Call Me by Your Name transcends the trappings of this particular tale of first love to be a universal story you just might see yourself in. Their time together becomes fascination for them both as what starts out as simple attraction becomes a journey into an intimate experience that will change Elio forever. If you are looking for movie convention, this film strays from that to become less plot-driven and more from emotion, something Guadagnino has proved he can do very well. What could have been melodramatic if told in a different way, takes on a lyrical, even sweet journey into the mysteries of the heart.
Chalamet, who also can be seen this season in supporting roles in Lady Bird and Hostiles, is an actor of great promise who doesn’t strike a single false note in balancing the conflicting feelings running through him. That he is an actor to watch was apparent when I saw him playing a young high school drama student in the wonderful, if criminally underseen, indie film Miss Stevens. In Call Me by Your Name he has his breakthrough film role, and he delivers on all fronts, even in a scene that will have you looking at a peach as never before. Hammer gets a role worthy of a talent not always exploited in the best manner by Hollywood. He too is a revelation here in a tricky role that remains authentic to the core. Stuhlbarg as Elio’s dad has a brilliant scene toward the end that beautifully sums up the theme and true meaning of this film. It is the kind of monologue an actor kills for, and he kills with it.
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s striking cinematography adds a grace note to the proceedings, as well as showing off this Italian paradise that surely will have tourists overrunning it as soon as they see the movie and can book a flight. Producers are Guadagnino, Ivory, Emilie Georges, Howard Rosenman, Marco Morabito, Peter Spears and Rodrigo Teixeira. Sony Pictures Classics released the film Friday in just NYC and LA theaters and scored the biggest specialty opening of the year. Well deserved. SPC plans to expand it to most major markets by Christmas. The film leads the Independent Spirit Award nominations with six and certainly will be a player throughout awards season.
Do you plan to see Call Me by Your Name? Let us know what you think.