I love surprises at the movies. As a writer and daily consumer of everything film, it takes a lot to floor me at this point. But after seeing Call Me By Your Name, I am reminded once again that this medium is truly special.
Call Me By Your Name takes place in Northern Italy in the summer of 1983. Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet), is a 17-year-old vacationing with his parents. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg), is a professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture and his mother (Amira Casar), is a translator.
Reading books, embracing different cultures and art is a daily occurrence. Elio in particular is very bright. He speaks multiple languages and he transcribes and plays classical music (Often to his father’s delight).
But he’s also a teenager enjoying the summer. He flirts with the locals, including the lovely French girl, Marzia (Esther Garrel), and he spends hours exploring the countryside, swimming and eating from the peach trees.
The family spends every summer at this 17th century villa and with each summer brings a new intern who stays with the family to work with Elio’s father.
The latest student is an American named Oliver (Armie Hammer). From the moment he arrives, Elio is interested in him. “He seems very confident,” says Elio to Marzia as they watch from afar. Oliver certainly stands out as a tall, handsome man with broad shoulders, blonde hair and blue eyes.
Elio finds Oliver intimidating. It doesn’t take much for the American to become acclimated to the foreign country and he’s quite independent. Elio is even a little taken aback by Oliver’s behavior. The American will say “later” following breakfast with the family and disappear for hours.
But really Elio is in awe of Oliver. Here is a “man” seven years older than Elio who seems to have everything figured out. Oliver’s confidence attracts Elio at first, but slowly he begins to feel a deeper connection that begins as a flirtatious crush and transforms into a full-blown summer romance.
Call Me By Your Name is an intoxicating experience. The beautiful Italian landscape, the music, the language and the characters are all delightful. It’s as if you’re living there with the family through Elio’s eyes.
Director Luca Guadagnino embraces everything in this script to create a love story that runs the gamut of emotions from tenderness, sensuality, compassion and wisdom to heartbreak. The tone and performances are so perfect that I didn’t even see a gay romance but rather a sweet connection between two people captured in a specific time and place.
And Guadagnino takes his time. Elio and Oliver are a bit distant both physically and emotionally for the first act of the film as Elio is attempting to figure out what he’s feeling and how to process it all. As the film progresses, the two become closer through shared experiences like daily bicycle trips, meals and adventures.
By doing this, Guadagnino creates a romance that feels completely organic and in no way rushed or forced. He also avoids clichés by embracing every main character with a sense of morality and honesty.
Chalamet is a revelation as Elio. He’s charming, funny and confident, but also vulnerable and aware of his naivety. “How is it that you know everything?” asks Oliver in a crucial scene. “I know everything except what really matters,” says Elio.
Hammer delivers the best performance of his career. Ever since The Social Network, Hollywood wanted to anoint him the next big movie star thanks to his leading-man looks and seemingly perfect cadence. But perhaps the string of flops he appeared in (J. Edgar, The Lone Ranger, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) was a blessing in disguise which allowed him to find a role like this one which plays to his strengths.
Much like Chalamet, Hammer plays Oliver as a fun and intelligent young man who thinks he knows everything until Elio comes into his life.
Stuhlbarg is once again excellent as Elio’s father. He’s so joyful and delightful in every scene he appears in and gives a wonderful monologue at the end to Elio full of wisdom and intellect. It’s the kind of monologue and performance that should be shown to every parent in the world.
There’s a scene in the film where a character quotes the words from a book: “Is it better to speak or to die?” This might encapsulate not only the entire film, but the whole idea of love. It might actually be even more crucial in queer cinema. Do we tell the people who we love how we really feel or wither in agony and fear because we’re afraid of how they’ll react?
Call Me By Your Name is a film about embracing everything in life no matter the cost and accepting the pain that comes with it. Guadagnino creates this through wonderful performances, beautiful visuals and a pitch-perfect script. Don’t miss this one.