I can’t promise that this is going to be my most coherent review, dear reader, because I’m still totally overwhelmed by the experience of watching this stunning film. Almost 24 hours later, I cannot get it out of my head and images keep washing over me, trying to take me back to the idyllic setting of Northern Italy in 1983. I will gladly be returning there as soon as I can, because this film will certainly be getting repeat viewings from me.
The third of an unofficial trilogy of films (after ‘I Am Love’ and ‘A Bigger Splash’) set amongst extremely privileged families in Italy from director Luca Guadagino, this one is based on the book of the same name by Andre Aciman. It follows a 17 year old American boy; Elio (Timothee Chalamet), who is summering in his parents’ holiday home. Mr Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) is his academic father, who has a graduate student come to stay with the family for six weeks, to work as his assistant. This student is 24 year old Oliver (Armie Hammer) who swans into the family setting with supreme confidence and immediately rubs Elio up the wrong way. Elio is an astonishingly literate and cultured teenager, slipping with ease between English, French and Italian and who spends his time reading beside pools, lakes and rivers in the breath-taking countryside.
Elio has a lively group of friends, including the lovely Marzia, who he starts to become involved with. If I had any small criticism of this film, it may be in its treatment of the female characters. Elio and Oliver treat their ‘girlfriends’ appallingly, which is understandable, given their character development. However, I would have liked Elio’s mother and the house keeper, Mafalda to have had more agency and involvement in the story. Oliver swoops in and out of Elio’s life on a whim, always leaving with a cursory “Later”. The two young men bicker and get each other’s backs up until a trip to Lake Garda, to see a project that Mr Perlman has been working on. Here they reach a truce and start to become closer. Through a series of awkward and cringe-inducingly realistic encounters, it becomes clear that Elio has feelings that go beyond friendship and eventually, Oliver responds.
A highlight of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is Sufjan Stevens’ beautiful piano score, which complements Elio’s own piano playing (something he uses as part of his seduction of Oliver). Of course, the house and its surroundings are a huge part of the appeal here. Every sun-drenched frame of this film could be a Hockney painting and the viewer is seduced as much as the characters are. The acting is phenomenal – this is now the third Chalamet film I’ve seen in a short space of time and he could go on to a career on the scale of someone like Leonardo DiCaprio, if he chooses to. Elio is absolutely the protagonist of this story (the novel is told from his point of view) and we experience the agony and ecstasy of each moment through him. It is incredibly gratifying to see Armie Hammer finally being given a role that shows what he can do. His Greek adonis looks are a huge part of the character, but Oliver’s swaggering charm is gradually stripped away and his vulnerabilities are laid bare as the story unfolds. Hammer’s acting in the first ‘morning after’ scene is incredible; as Elio starts to gain an upper hand and Oliver searches for clues as to his feelings.
The script (adapted from the novel by the octogenarian James Ivory) is a beautiful thing. There is far more humour than you might expect – with many laugh out loud moments punctured throughout. Much has been made of the ‘chaste’ nature of the sex scenes (you don’t see that much nudity or actual gay sex). However the full spectrum of the story is told; from fumbling beginnings, to desperation and the completely new way the characters see and respond to each other afterwards. We are taken through every single emotion of the journey of this summer romance, which is all the more tender and heart-breaking for its short-lived nature.
The film really ramps up the emotional stakes at the end, with a speech from Michael Stuhlbarg which will probably earn him an Oscar nomination. There is also a stunning final shot, as the credits role, which will keep you glued to your seat, even if the house lights have come up by that point. There are so many shots and moments from this film that I still have left to unpack. If I told you that the sight of two bicycles resting together by the side of a house was one of the most erotic things I have seen on film, you might gain an idea of where I’m at. There are so many visual clues and jokes – an enormous phallus-like bollard in the foreground of one of the shots (featured in the trailer) will definitely stay with me. This film is a sensory overload; from the boiled egg that Oliver smashes to smithereens during his first breakfast with the Perlmans, to the infamous use of peaches – this is a film that fills you with sounds, sights and even scents that will linger for a long time afterwards. Almost every shot contains visual metaphors that will take many repeated viewings to fully discover.
Ultimately, it is the performances (particularly from Chalamet) that make the biggest impression, however. I would love for the Academy to finally look past their ageism in the Best Actor category and acknowledge what is undoubtedly the performance of the year. Chalamet is one to watch for the future and I can’t wait to see what he does next. I urge you to seek out this stunning film, however you can. Hopefully awards recognition may lead to a re-release early next year and if that happens, snap up the chance to see this sensual feast of a film filled with desire. One of 2017’s best.
Fiona’s Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg