(contains some spoilers most likely)
Luca Guadagnino’s beautiful, sensually immersive, coming of age film, is, at it’s core, a vision of the classic summer romance. Taking place in 1983 the film is about a young American boy, a 17 year old named Elio (Timothee Chalamet) whose family summers at a villa in the northern Italy. Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an archology professor who brings over a doctoral student from the States named Oliver played by Armie Hammer.
Elio is musical prodigy and works all summer battling the typical 17 year old penchant for boredom by transcribing his music and practicing on guitar and piano. A typically awkward kid who finds time for girls and the occasional party.
When Oliver shows up, people are immediately taken with his charm, good looks and obvious intellect. The family is entirely charmed by him as are the local girls as they watch him play volleyball. Elio is fascinated by Oliver but initially he treats him with a bit of suspicion, even making fun of how he leaves the table with a quick “later” as he gets up.
Elio, however is quickly won over by the older Oliver who treats him like a peer and takes him into town for errands with him and asks for his advice on some essays he has written. Immediately there is sexual tension between them which evolves into a secret physical affair. This being the 80’s there is an obvious awareness to a social stigma that was still attached to a same sex relationship in those days, the men are careful to be discreet and not let anyone in on their secret. Seeing this in the 21st century, for me, was illustrative in just how far we as a society have come.
About midway through the film Elio’s family entertains a local gay couple for a dinner party and there is some snickering within the family about them, they refer to the couple as “Sonny and Cher”. The snickering while a bit untoward is not done with cruel intent, it’s more of a function of gossip than of derision, but to have that bit of business in the film, while Elio and Oliver are having their own secret affair tells me that the director definitely wanted to show the attitudes of the era, of the closeted 80’s and contrast that with the current moment where most folks don’t give same sex relationships a second thought. I write that knowing full well that there are segments of society today that would prefer to go back to the snickering, closeted days. Thankfully those folks are in he minority in the US even if they do constitute the current ruling political party.
The scenes of sensuality between the two principals are handled artfully, with a nod to Robert Mapplethorpe by way of a photograph hanging on the wall of Elio’s bedroom. The entire film is beautifully shot.
Special notice should be given to the performance of Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father, late in the film he gives a father/son talk that will leave you breathless in it’s approach to the relationship between Elio and Oliver and to life in general.
Without giving away too much, Call Me By Your Name is a film that will split your heart wide open and kudos to Luca Guadagnino for having so much emotional content and depth even as the credits are rolling.
Timothee Chalamet is shows more emotion with his eyes than most actors can with pages of dialog, his work here is a revelation. He shows vulnerability, teen age cynicism and often showing a smartass side of himself along with teenage emotional awkwardness.
Armie Hammer is excellent but man this dude is simply unable to dance. There are scenes where the characters are at various parties and Oliver may be the worst dancer, maybe ever. Painful to watch! The next director who shoots Armie Hammer dancing should lose his union card.
One thing about Oliver though, he’s cruelly manipulative to some extent. There are details of his personal life back home he does not share with Elio. A doctoral student who is at least 23 years of age is miles more mature emotionally than a 17 year old sensitive kid. Oliver takes advantage of Elio in a way that is heartless and cruel.
Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful, heartbreaking and emotional film. I can’t say enough about how breathtakingly photographed the film is. Every performance is top shelf. One of the years best films.
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