Everything about Call Me By Your Name is gorgeous, from the lush Italian setting, to the idyllic 80s backdrop, the nostalgic summer moments, down to the strapping men at the center of it. Young Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is a renaissance teen-fluent in multiple languages, a musical prodigy, avid reader-enjoying his summer when he meets the American Oliver (Armie Hammer), a research assistant working for Elio’s father, and boarding with the family. Elio is fascinated, annoyed, and charmed by Oliver almost instantly and he must struggle through his evolving feelings towards him. Only it’s not that much of a struggle, and that is the beauty of the film.
Despite the central relationship being between two men, the oppressive burden of being gay (in the 80s no less) is not a part of the narrative. The film merely showcases an obvious attraction between two people and their initial resistance and eventual surrender to it. It’s romantic and sweet and full of universal coming-of-age pathos.
Chalamet is stunning as Elio, capturing the complexity of being seventeen – aggressive know-it-all swagger tempered with bouts of crippling awkwardness. His seduction of the towering Oliver is a slow push-pull of logic and passion and their evolving bond-first with an obvious age gap, then slowly moving towards being equals, is compelling. As a coming-of-age romance, the film has a universal appeal. I understand Elio. I understand Oliver. The art direction is superb, and without having much of story, the thoughtful attention to detail helps capture the time, but also the mood. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with the Florida Project, which I had just seen, which also has less of a story, but equal reliance on moody set pieces, and it just works so much better here. A camera holding on Chalamet’s face by the fire says so much without dialogue.
Director Luca Guadagnino has so many soft moments to capture, that he maintains a proper pace, even if the film feels a tad overlong. Writer James Ivory gives his scholarly characters the rightful eloquence, but peppers in some truly powerful moments. Michael Stuhlbarg, as Elio’s father, registers a strong presence with little screen time thanks to powerful and climactic moment, a speech full of love, empathy, and amazing impact, much like the movie as a whole.
My Grade – B+