Remember that title, as you’ll be hearing a lot about Luca Guadagnino’s sublime summertime romance.
There are probably going to be rather a few filmmakers who see this movie and end up cursing it to Hades. Not through any malicious intent, or as a knee-jerk negative reaction to the material. More that it’s an obviously superior version of a type of movie that a lot of directors have taken a shot at – the bittersweet, pastoral May-to-December romance with a wistful rite-of-passage side pot.
With his previous films I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, Italian director Luca Guadagnino left the glistening wax seal of his flamboyant personal presence all over the screen. Maybe this was through the brash framing, the bombastic performances or his own desire to loudly flaunt his artistic and cinematic influences. All that archness and irony served to blur the boundaries between reality and fantasy – they are gorgeous cinematic artefacts rather than real, heartfelt missives.
With Call Me by Your Name, his latest and, by some margin, best film, he slides off into the apricot groves to remain little more than a casual observer to all the hot-blooded action. His approach of utter, untrammelled sincerity is what lifts this film to the levels of intense rapture.
The story, adapted from André Aciman’s 2007 novel (with the help of James Ivory no less), takes place “Somewhere in Northern Italy” during the summer of 1983. Bleepy electropop pours from the transistor radios, Penguin Classic paperbacks snap at the spine from overuse, while the balmy climes cause locals to disrobe and take a cooling dip at any given opportunity. Supple, naked flesh is visible from dawn till dusk. Armie Hammer’s architectural academic Oliver has landed an internship with avuncular professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), and even though he keeps his powder dry while undertaking work on this grand estate, his attentions are snatched by his employer’s son, the precocious, spindly 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet).
The film basks in a lush love affair that burns quickly and brightly. During a game of volleyball, the touchy-feely Oliver attempts to offer Elio a stress massage in front of all his pals. What Elio later discovers is this was the first, surreptitious manoeuvre in a lengthy and subtle courting ritual, that plays out in minute, rhapsodic detail. With all the talk of immaculate, sensual 5th century bronze statues that invite you to be allured by their erotic magnetism of their twisted poses, Hammer himself almost seems like a piece of stunt casting as the tanned vision of classical virile perfection. Chalamet, meanwhile, is more tactile and impetuous of the pair, ashamed by his impulses but also excited by the promise of his sudden sexual maturation. His devil-may-care performance is a delight.
Though the couple are careful to keep their clinches to the shadows, Guadagnino allows his camera a front-row centre seat to the physical blossoming of their burgeoning amour. He photographs male bodies with the empathetic embrace of Derek Jarman, capturing his characters from awkward vantages (many up-shorts shots) which make the lewd look entrancing. Characters, too, slip between French, English and Italian, sometimes in the midst of a single conversation, and Guadagnino uses language as a way to codify each each new hidden layer to their personas. Much like Todd Haynes’ Carol, this is a film about how love (true love!) transcends verbal discourse and pulses between couples like invisible radio waves.
To namecheck all the amazing moments would be a long and tedious process, but seems vital to mention a climactic monologue given to Stuhlbarg which is breathtaking in both content and delivery. The actor doesn’t have that much to do in the film, cropping up occasionally from the sidelines, often lounging in a wicker chair or making some goofy quip. And then, he’s nudged to the fore in this integral scene causing us to think that the entire film is being told from his perspective. Seriously, Call Me by Your Name is a tremendous film, but this one sequence could and should go down in infamy.
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