Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois
A subtle facial expression, the curve of a bronze limb, or the melancholy shift from one piano chord to the next – so often these details can express so much more than mere words, and Luca Guadagnino seems exceptionally aware of this in his new coming-of-age drama, Call Me by Your Name. Set in 1983, the film chronicles the relationship between 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and an older American student (Armie Hammer’s irresistibly charming ‘Oliver’) who has come to stay for the summer in the Perlmans’ holiday home, “somewhere in northern Italy”. Slowly, seductively, the romance unfolds across days spent “waiting for the summer to end” – days characterised by the cultural milieu of Elio’s affectionate parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar, respectively) and the hedonistic pursuits of the local teenagers.
Call Me by Your Name is a film that immediately draws you into the emotional and physical spaces of its characters; you are there, it seems, pedalling down country lanes and across the cobbles of a piazza, or reading in the stately house with a warm Italian breeze blowing in from the open balcony. It is not a tragic film, nor a thrilling one, but runs on a sense of intimacy throughout, and it is this intimacy that makes the characters’ relationships – from Elio’s strong bonds with each parent to his flirtatious capers with girls his own age – so emotionally effective. It is in his relationship with Oliver, though, that this intimacy is at its highest (and, occasionally, its most heartbreaking). The performances of the two (Chalamet’s, in particular) are faultless – a subtle yet stunning portrayal of the tenderness and anxieties of first love.
Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.
Complementing these relationships are awe-inspiring visuals of the Italian countryside (brilliantly captured on 35mm film by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom), from the vibrancy of the Perlmans’ orchard of apricots and peaches – make of that symbolism what you will – to the sublime seascapes where Elio and his father explore Roman ruins and hunt for ancient artefacts. If, by the end of the film, you don’t immediately want to up sticks and move to Italy, I can only assume that you wandered into the wrong film by mistake.
Besides the visuals, though, music also plays an important role in the film. Elio himself is an avid musician, spending most of his days transcribing music for the piano, and makes use of his extensive knowledge and abilities to tease the American visitor in a playful and precocious expression of his early attraction. Outside the story, the themes and emotions of the film are constantly revisited through touching piano motifs, and musical interludes featuring original music by Sufjan Stevens provide moments of reflection throughout.
The emotional resonance of Call Me by Your Name cannot be overstated. Guadagnino’s depiction of love is at once riddled with symbolism and grounded firmly in reality, with quirks and imperfections that anyone who has experienced young love can relate to. Even with a runtime over two hours and very little in the way of action or excitement, not one moment of the film feels superfluous. Each second is filled with a beauty or playfulness or melancholy that, together, embody love in all its complexity.