“Call Me by Your Name”, the latest work from Luca Guadagnino, brims with the sensuous sense of love and romance in its bright, breezy summer atmosphere. While its first half closely and intimately observes its two heroes tentatively approaching to each other, its second half is decorated with tender and sensitive moments of joy and excitement as they feel happy and rapturous in their secret romance, and we are both amused and touched even though we are well aware that their lovely summer days will not last long.
The story of the movie, which is based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, is mainly about one unforgettable summer of a 17-year-old American boy named Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet). It is the summer of 1983, and Elio has been idly spending the summer along with his parents in their summer house located in some rural area of Northern Italy, but there comes a change he does not welcome much. His archaeology professor father, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, needs someone to assist him in his ongoing work, so he invites one of his graduate students to his summer house, and that guy is going to stay in Elio’s bedroom for several days.
His name is Oliver (Armie Hammer), and we cannot help but notice how much he looks different from Elio in many aspects. While Elio is a lanky, introspective teenager boy still not so sure about himself, Oliver is a sturdy, outgoing lad full of confidence and intelligence, and Elio’s father and his French wife Annella (Amira Casar) certainly enjoy spending time with this smart, handsome young man. When Elio’s father and Oliver discuss about the origin of a certain word at one point, their academic passion feels palpable on the screen, and we come to sense that we are watching a rare movie about real characters who are really intelligent and interesting enough to observe.
Mainly because he has to sleep in the other bedroom next to his bedroom, Elio does not like Oliver a lot, but then he cannot help but feel attracted to Oliver. Although he is currently in the relationship with some French girl and Oliver seems to be mostly interested in girls, he finds himself more and more infatuated with Oliver, so he tries to draw Oliver’s attention whenever Oliver is around him, and then there eventually comes a point when he discovers that the feeling between him and Oliver is quite mutual.
While Elio and Oliver tactfully push and pull each other during the first half, the adapted screenplay by James Ivory leisurely rolls its plot, and Guadagnino, who showed his top-notch mastery of mood and visual previously in “I Am Love” (2010) and “A Bigger Splash” (2015), delights us with numerous lovely moments to admire and enjoy. His cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who was one of the cinematographers of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (2010), did a commendable job of establishing the vivid, comfortable ambience of summer days on the screen, and we sometimes feel like having a cozy vacation along with the characters in the film. Consisting of various pieces of music, the soundtrack works as the effective aural reflection of the thoughts and feelings under the surface, and that makes the movie more emotionally resonant on the whole.
Because it is the 1980s, Elio and Oliver are understandably hesitant in taking a forward step toward to each other, but then they cannot help but swept by their mutual feeling once they admit it to each other, and the second half of the movie accordingly gives us a number of erotic moments between them. While these scenes are filled with passion and excitement as demanded, they are also depicted with lots of tenderness and intimacy as required, and it is particularly touching to see the scene associated with the very title of the movie.
Under Guadagnino’s superlative direction, the main cast members of the movie give wonderfully nuanced performances. Timothée Chalamet, who is one of the notable breakthrough performers of last year, is simply phenomenal in the performance which will probably garner an Oscar nomination, and he did a very good job of conveying to us his character’s intelligence and sensitivity. While I must confess that I will never forget a certain raunchy scene of his which deserves to be compared with that infamous moment in “American Pie” (1999), I appreciate how deftly he handles that scene and many other key scenes in the movie while never taking any misstep, and he effectively functions as the pulsating heart of the movie.
On the opposite, Armie Hammer utilizes well his clean-cut screen persona while subtly depicting the emotional states of his character, and the result is his best performance since his breakthrough turn in “The Social Network” (2010). Thanks to their good chemistry on the screen, he and Chalamet click well together right from their first scene, and that is the main reason why the bittersweet finale works with considerable emotional effects.
Revolving around Chalamet and Hammer, the other main performers in the movie are believable in their respective small roles. While Amira Casar is gentle and caring as Elio’s mother, Esther Garrel holds her own small place well as Elio’s girlfriend, and Michael Stuhlbarg has a sublimely poignant moment when his thoughtful character gives Elio a wise, heartfelt advice as a man who understands well how enthralling first love can be – and how heartbreaking it also can be.
I must confess that love and romance are still something alien and abstract to me despite a number of recent carnal experiences, but I can observe good romance movies with curiosity and amusement at least, and “Call Me by Your Name” is one of such films. This is a sheer cinematic pleasure, and I was surely enthralled and entertained by its mood, performance, and storytelling. It may be your average gay romantic coming-of-age tale, but the movie handles its story with impressive sensitivity and sensuality, and it is indeed one of the most memorable romance films during recent years.