Based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name and superbly adapted by writer James Ivory. Call Me by Your Name is a coming-of-age love story and concludes director Luca Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy, following I Am Love and A Bigger Splash.
In 1980s Italy, precocious seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is spending a seemingly endless summer with his parents (Amira Casar and Michael Stuhlbarg) at their villa in Lombardy. His father’s an archaeology professor and each year a graduate student is invited to aid him with his work. The arrival of charming American Oliver (Armie Hammer) stirs unexplored desires within Elio.
Early on, Elio mistakes Oliver’s self-assured demeanour for arrogance and it’s established from the offset that this isn’t the run-of-the-mill story of dominance meets naivety. Elio isn’t in Oliver’s shadow, he’s quietly confident, cultured beyond his years and frequently livens up rooms with his musical talents. The couple of years Oliver has on Elio shows through his firm grip on his own identity and his ability to suppress potentially inappropriate feelings. Days pass and the pair chip away at each other, leading to a yearning that’s pushed to breaking point. Capturing the turbulent escalation from initial attraction to intense infatuation, Guadagnino examines subtle, playful nudges and unfiltered, fierce encounters with equal attentiveness.
Chalamet’s performance encapsulates the wonder and humiliation of adolescence, coupled with the joy and devastation of first love. There’s an unruly physicality to his presence as he grows throughout and as he pierces the final shot of the film with raw, overwhelming emotion, we knowingly gaze at a breaking heart that’s forever changed. Having already found himself, Hammer’s role is more muted. However, the disintegration of his resistance is perfectly paced, exposing his own vulnerabilities and a gentle side to his bold manner.
Stuhlbarg’s turn as Elio’s father is reminiscent of Robin Williams’ performance in 1989’s Dead Poets Society. Warmth emanates from him and there’s a twinkle in his eye as he not only educates academically but teaches invaluable life lessons too. A soul shattering speech from father to son will leave a lasting impact as truths resonate regardless of your sexuality. Another wonderfully gentle moment unfolds when struggling, tearful Elio calls his mother to collect him from the train station. Casar impressively doesn’t utter a word, simply filling the journey home with unspoken motherly devotion and a healing embrace.
With each frame of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography resembling a picture postcard, along with some catchy period pop songs, the film drifts by like a summer daydream. A luminous haze that’s disrupted by Sufjan Stevens’ original compositions that overflow with anguish.
Beautifully tender but unapologetically brazen, Call Me by Your Name is a sensual, fearless depiction of first love.