Call Me By Your Name is a phenomenal piece of cinema, undoubtedly soon to be a part of the queer canon.
Based on the hit novel by André Aciman, it tells the story of Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) as they summer at a luxurious family villa “Somewhere in Northern Italy”; for six weeks, young academic Oliver is invited to join them, with whom Elio becomes quickly infatuated.
The first act is one of stolen glances; Elio’s gaze lingers on Oliver in a manner familiar to many LGBT teens. As the summer progresses – slowly, there is little concrete sense of time passing – their romance develops, they give in to temptation.
“Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.”
Chalamet gives an appropriately precocious performance as Elio: here is an actor headed for great things. He effortlessly flips between English, French and Italian: the subtitles don’t intrude, though, but rather flow effortlessly and lend a sense of realism to the dialogue. Arnie Hammer shines opposite him; their chemistry is exquisite, captivating. Stuhlbarg’s Prof. Perlman is a glorious father figure: he’s warm, loving, understanding; watch out for his emotional speech at the end, which will no doubt earn him Supporting Actor nods.
Chalamet’s soon-to-be infamous scene with a peach (you’ll never send a peach emoji in the same way again) is as seductive as it is awkward. Hammer’s dancing is thoroughly Eighties, as is much of his wardrobe, with details like these rooting the action in a time now past, one where sexuality was a more difficult topic to broach.
Small details are given a graceful magnificence: Elio’s Casio watch becomes a sign of temptation, delayed gratification, a forbidden rendezvous at midnight; he checks it endlessly, much the way one repeatedly checks one’s phone now.
While there are no explicit sex scenes, nudity abounds, with much of the plot set beside rivers or pools: parallels are drawn between nude Greek sculptures of antiquity and the toned torso of Hammer, which lend the sensuality a timeless quality, beyond judgement.
“I wanted the audience to completely rely on the emotional travel of these people and feel first love,” explained director Luca Guadagnino. “It was important to me to create this powerful universality, because the whole idea of the movie is that the other person makes you beautiful – enlightens you, elevates you.”
The sound is captivating: not just the piano music that saturates the score or the pair of original songs – by Sufjan Stevens – whose lyrics appear rather suddenly. Everything is heard, the whispers amplified, the movements of fabrics and flesh and mouths made tactile, imminent.
At 130 minutes, this isn’t a short movie, despite its relatively straightforward plot. The camera, like Elio, lingers; the whole film is as languid as the hot Italian afternoons we are drawn into. The cinematography – shot on 35mm film – is gorgeous; every frame is beautiful, from the Italian landscapes to the picturesque towns brimming with period details.
At moments it approaches perfection but never lingers there; this is a film about the transitory nature of happiness. Theirs is a love that ends, not due to fault or foul but because it has to. And by ending, it is preserved perfectly in memory.
This is more than just a coming-of-age story or summer romance; it is about being torn between what you want and what you feel you ought to want.