The lush, languid romance “Call Me by Your Name” will put you in the mood for summer and possibly more.
Set in an Italian villa in the 1980s, this unconventional love story is an instant summer classic, and a sometimes shockingly frank exploration of a seminal summer in the life of 17-year-old Elio. Clearly director Luca Guadagnino (“A Bigger Splash”) has a signature vision for the kind of deceptively relaxed film where feelings slowly simmer, usually in someplace fabulous in Italy, which does not hurt.
Twenty-one-year-old Timothée Chalamet earns all the attention he has received with his authentic portrayal of teen diffidence. His Elio is an intelligent young man lounging around with his supportive intellectual parents; they live in America but spend summers and holidays at the fabulous home his mother inherited in her Italian hometown.
Every year, one of his professor father’s lucky graduate students is chosen to join them for six weeks, and in the year of this film, it’s Oliver (Armie Hammer), a blindingly handsome hunk in an array of shorts so short that digital alterations had to be made to the film in post-production.
Between reading, swimming and playing the piano, Elio casually pursues a willing local girl, while the vibe between Oliver and Elio simmers between brotherly hero worship and a reticent attraction. One minute Elio complains of Oliver’s brash confidence, and the next he’s staring longingly at his empty bed. Both Chalamet and Hammer are natural, convincing and mesmerizing throughout.
Chalamet’s character is so strong, and Hammer does such a good job of walking back his character’s confidence in private moments, that they seem equally matched as a couple, and it’s easy to overlook a problematic aspect of their relationship, which is their age differences. Elio is 17 and Oliver is 25, but Hammer’s sheer physical presence compared with Chalamet’s slight teen build exacerbates the difference.
I found this aspect occasionally disturbing, but that’s just one realistic and nuanced part of their story. It’s a film about things happening, not a moral guide to what should or should not be allowed to take place in an ideal world.
“Ideal” does apply, however, to that villa of theirs, and visually this film is a sensual feast. It also does rather too effective a job of creating the languid, indolent mood of a lazy summer, so that the run time takes you almost into the actual season. It was fun being lulled into a sunny torpor of paperback books and afternoon naps, and a very delicate sense of suspense about Elio and Oliver is a big part of the film’s success. But surely they could have found 20 minutes to trim out somewhere so that I would not have longed for the end.
I must alert you to many, many carnal excursions in “Call Me by Your Name,” and while they are beautifully, tastefully handled with no major nudity, I must give this a strict “do not watch with your parents/kids” caution. For comfortably mature adults, though, this is a beautiful, thought-provoking film, and performances by the younger and older stars really express some powerful things.
Michael Stuhlbarg is quietly phenomenal as Elio’s father, and he delivers an astonishingly moving monologue to his son that is so profound that, while it pertains to the very specific context of the film, it also contains some universal perspectives that could also be the most intimate college graduation address in the history of graduation addresses.
“Call Me by Your Name” is a compelling, confusing, beautiful film peopled with unforgettable, believable characters, not necessarily a crowd pleaser, but an intense, highly individual vision that might open your eyes to what the definition of “summer romance” can mean. Like Elio himself, if you are open to new experiences, you might find this film one you’ll never forget.
“Call Me by Your Name” is currently available to rent.
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