What else can be said about Call Me By Your Name except that Luca Guadagnino has crafted one of the all time great coming of age romances? It is cinematic reverie, creating a sublime intersection of directing, writing, and acting that stuns and awes. It is poetry en cine, so achingly beautiful that it burrows its way into your heart, mind, and soul.
Buzz for Call Me By Your Name, based on the novel by author Andre Aciman, has been building since last year’s Sundance, and its roll out has been slow, opening in more and more select cities since late 2017. Its strategic releasing may have served it well for awards season acclaim, but this is one instance where the critical to-do is every bit deserved.
Alternating between revelatory and heartbreaking, Call Me By Your Name captures perfectly that moment in youth where adulthood feels so close, even when everyone speaks to you as if it’s so far away. Timothee Chalamet delivers a star-making performance as Elio, a seventeen-year-old Italian boy exploring the edges of his impending manhood. He is blasé, a know-it-all, bursting at the seams with his own worldliness as he spends his summer in Northern Italy with his parents, a professor of Greco-Roman culture (Michael Stuhlberg) and his literarily inclined, bon vivant wife (Amira Casar).
Elio’s world is turned inside out with the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), his father’s student assistant for the summer. An American grad student, Oliver hopes to spend his final summer soaking in Italian culture and pursuing academic interests before heading back home to become a doctor. Despite butting heads at first—victims both of their own machismo—their relationship blossoms first into friendship and then into love.
Theirs is a love of proximity, the flames of which burn bright and hard. Each of them intrigued by the stranger in the room next door, they are compelled beyond reason towards each other. Elio, beginning his dalliances into such Manly Pursuits as sex and romance, is impressively typical in his adolescence. He speaks of the local girls, the could-haves, and is almost preternaturally concerned with his penis. His attempts at cool are endearingly awkward and belie his posturing as a full man.
It’s no wonder he’s initially so intimidated by the likes of Oliver. What man wouldn’t be intimidated by Armie Hammer, especially an Armie Hammer so comfortable in his own skin that he seems naked, even when fully clothed? Oliver is likewise taken with Elio’s precociousness, itself offering glimpses of the kind of man he will become. He’s smart, witty, and that adorable kind of shy that is just begging to coaxed into the light.
While certainly atypical and culturally unacceptable by American standards, there’s a kind of whimsy to their budding romance that’s impossible not to be swept away in. Hammer and Chalamet each give their characters subtle tics and traits that rocket their performances to awards caliber levels and far beyond. So good are they you almost feel voyeuristic watching it happen.
Importantly, though, it never feels exploitative. Thanks to Guadagnino’s superb direction and James Ivory’s stellar adaptation, every line Call Me By Your Name needs to walk carefully is trod carefully and precisely. What we get as a result is a painful reflection on the kind of love that can change lives, especially when it’s a love you’re not looking for and never thought to expect.
Beautiful isn’t even the half of it. This is the rare film that’s a classic coming out of the gate, the kind you watch and know you’ll return to time and again, and which will live on through new generations of film and filmmakers. It’s the kind of film you revel in, wowed by its artistry and rivetted by its humanity. I already can’t wait to watch it again.
Call Me By Your Name is now playing in theaters everywhere.