Call Me By Your Name

By the director of I Am Love and A Bigger Splash

Of all the ways in which Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name advances the canon of gay cinema, none impresses more than the fact that it’s not necessarily a gay movie at all – at least, not in the sense of being limited to LGBT festivals and audiences. Rather, the I Am Love director’s ravishingly sensual new film, adapted from André Aciman’s equally vivid novel, is above all a story of first love – one that transcends the same-sex dynamic of its central couple, much as Moonlight has.

Poster for the coming-of-age romantic drama Call Me By Your NameThis Proustian account of an Italo-American 17-year-old’s transformative summer may not be as commercial as Moonlight, but it ought to be a word-of-mouth hit all the same – especially when talk turns to what teenage Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and American summer guest Oliver (Armie Hammer) do with a ripe peach.

The film takes place at the Perlmans’ vacation home, a spacious old villa in Lombardy. Every summer, the family’s professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) hires a promising young doctoral student to assist with his research. This year, the house guest is a 24-year-old golden boy of the kind that might once have graced the pages of Physique Pictorial magazine.

Oliver’s arrival stirs something in Elio, though the teen is slow to confront his feelings. On one hand, he’s compelled to spend as much time with the newcomer as possible, serving as his guide on bike rides to town and frequent trips to the local swimming hole. At the same time, he’s protective of his own feelings, unsure how to read Oliver’s casual American attitude.

Though Elio and his family have spent many a summer in Lombardy, something is different about this one – that much is clear in the way Elio interacts with longtime girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel). They’ve known each other since childhood and are so comfortable around one another, it seems a logical next step that they might choose to lose their virginity with one another. But Elio holds back temporarily, bragging to Oliver that he and Marzia could have had sex after a late-night swim, just to see what kind of reaction it gets.

Oliver is interested, but is clearly wary of acting on his desires, since Elio is not only inexperienced, but also his boss’ son. This seductive outsider correctly anticipates that anything physical that might happen between him and Elio will have a lasting impact on the young man’s sexual identity.

As played by Hammer, Oliver is the smouldering embodiment of cocky self-confidence, and yet, there’s an endearing vulnerability in the way he needs Elio to make the first move – setting the tempo for the deliciously tentative courtship dance between them. Meanwhile, relative newcomer Chalamet combines the intellectual precocity and hot-blooded animal energy of a young Louis Garrel.

As Elio and Oliver’s attraction become more brazen, the question remains how much of their ‘special friendship’ registers with Elio’s parents. The boy’s mother (Amira Casar) certainly picks up on the impact Oliver has had on her son, even going so far as to suggest that the two spend a few days alone together. As for Elio’s father, Guadagnino has done justice to one of the book’s key passages, crafting an exquisite scene in which Stuhlbarg’s character bares his soul via a terrific monologue, a gift to audiences who might have desperately needed to hear it in their own lives. This splendid conversation makes such an impact, the film could have ended there.

Even as he beguiles us with mystery, director Guadagnino recreates Elio’s life-changing summer with such intensity that we might as well be experiencing it first-hand. It’s a rare gift that earns him a place in the pantheon alongside such masters of sensuality as Pedro Almodóvar and François Ozon, while putting Call Me By Your Name on par with the best of their work.

– Peter Debruge, Variety
 

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