Luca Guadagnino's tender and intelligent Call Me By Your Name appeals to nostalgia in that it conjures a past too beautiful to be trusted, before smartphones and the AIDS epidemic, when our emotions were too robust to contain. It situates us in a place that never was, a construct of the memory of our surrogate, a sensitive 17-year-old with elevated tastes.
If you have heard about the movie, which has wandered around the festival circuit since it premiered at Sundance a year ago (perhaps too much time has gone by for it to be a real factor this awards season) before landing in theaters, then you might have heard it described as a gay love story. Much of the publicity surrounding the film has concerned itself with the "novelty" of its two overtly heterosexual stars, Armie Hammer and this season's It Boy Timothee Chalamat, playing lovers. (At times it seems a little too much has been made of the straightness of the actors, but fault the media for that rather than Hammer or Chalamat.) Some people might be dissuaded from seeing the film because of its gay theme.
Call Me By Your Name
89 Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, Vanda Capriolo, Antonio Rimoldi
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Rating: R, for sexual content, nudity and some language
Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes
That's a shame. Though there may be plenty of valid reasons not to see Call Me By Your Name, simple bigotry is a poor one. There's a lot to recommend here, from director Luca Guadagnino's canny use of its bucolic northern Italian setting (the town of Crema in the film, transposed from the Italian Riviera in the source novel) to the breezy naturalness of its two appealing stars and the well-calibrated supporting roles by the always welcome Michael Stuhlbarg and Kurdish-Russian actress Amira Casar (who deserves more attention than she's been receiving for the role).
While the film is ostensibly about a summer romance between two attractive young men, its themes obviously resonate with a wider audience than the LGBT community. Anyone who has had -- or has imagined -- a doomed youthful fling might be susceptible to this charming, bittersweet film.
The plot is simple and subordinate to the film's textures and evocations: It's 1983 and Elio Perlman (Chalamat) is a serious-minded 17-year-old, a musical prodigy and bibliophile, who lives with his father (Stuhlbarg), a professor of nautical archaeology, and mother (Casar) in a small Italian village. Elio is a quiet kid but well-adapted socially. He is popular with the village girls.
At first he's resentful of Oliver (Hammer), a 24-year-old graduate student who is spending the summer with them, serving as his father's assistant. Oliver is too brash, too American for Elio's taste -- he's a cosmopolitan young man, fluent in at least three languages. He doesn't understand why he should have to give up his room to this frat boy. (And frankly, I didn't either. The storage room Elio winds up in seems perfectly fine.) It grates on him that Oliver says "later" rather than "goodbye."
Oliver senses Elio's prickliness and at first does little to put him at ease. But gradually, the two begin to develop a teasing, easy relationship that obviously contains seeds of mutual desire (although neither of them is exactly gay -- they're more hetero-fluid, with both of them also carrying on with girls from the village). Thai cinematographer Thai Sayombhu Mukdeeprom discreetly holds his camera at a distance during the first section of the film, framing everything in wide and medium shots, until he finally closes in on Elio's face as he watches Oliver dance with a local girl. It's as though the notion arrives with the close-up: Maybe he's a bit jealous.
Except for one scene that has become a little notorious -- the "peach scene" taken directly from the 2007 Andre Aciman novel on which the film was based -- Guadagnino keeps the explicit stuff off camera as he depicts the world within the frame as lush and sensual and suspiciously art-directed. The villa the Perlmans live in looks like it's awaiting the photographer from Town & Country, and the family is too uber-sophisticated to be convincing. (Their language-switching is a little preposterous, especially since only Casar seems genuinely at home in Italian.)
But what saves the movie from seeming like a two-hour male fragrance ad is a scene near the end when Elio's dad sits down to deliver a remarkably affecting father-to-son talk that, while it quotes Montaigne in the original French, feels entirely organic and pierces through the movie's dreaminess to fix it in a real-feeling world. That and a final, wordless shot of Elio's face snaps us out of our reverie: Love hurts.
MovieStyle on 01/19/2018
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