Stars: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg
Released: 2017 (London Film Festival)
Reviewer: Hannah Woodhead
The coming-of-age story of first love and self-discovery is a genre we see repeated throughout cinematic history time and time again. It takes an exceptional talent to break the mold, but with Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino has managed to achieve the unlikely, breathing new life into a genre plagued by cliches and a fear to take risks.
Beautifully adapted by James Ivory from Andre Aciman’s novel of the same name, Call Me By Your Name tells the story of seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet), whose summer vacation in northern Italy is interrupted by the arrival of American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer), who will stay for six weeks to Elio’s archeologist father (Michael Stuhlberg). Oliver’s arrival is met with skepticism by Elio, who is displaced from his bedroom and simultaneously irritated and intrigued by his presence. Over the course of the summer, a romance unfolds between Oliver and Elio, set against the dreamy backdrop of the Tuscan countryside. It’s as picture-perfect as a setting comes (one most of us only dream of for our first love) and matched by a beautiful score by master of melancholy Sufjan Stevens, the film has charm in droves. You can practically smell the sweetness of the peach trees and taste the sweat that hangs like dew in the Tuscan summer heat – Guadagnino really brings his story to life through scenery and direction, making it as all-consuming as the subject matter itself.
Yet it’s on the shoulders of Hammer and Chalamet that the film lives and dies. Their chemistry is intoxicating, as they dance around each other, quick-witted and trying to decipher the meaning within their relationship. Chalamet is a delight, precocious and yet vulnerable, sensitive and sarcastic and as bright as the North Star. Hammer is the perfect foil, tall and imposing, yet so wholesome and all-American it’s impossible not to be as charmed by him as Elio quickly is. Hammer brings surprising warmth and depth to Oliver so that the story is as much as him growing as it is the teenage Elio. In finding each other they find the safety and security to mature, and their bittersweet summer romance will bring a familiar sense of pain to anyone who has ever experienced that similar unique misery of loving an impossible thing.
Michael Stuhlberg is also pitch-perfect as Elio’s eccentric but warm father, who provides his son with infinite wisdom about love. Portrayals of positive father/son relationships in LGBT films are all too rare, and this one feels particularly poignant. Elio and Oliver’s story is just that – a story about two men who happen to fall in love. The taboo of their relationship is not gender but the seven-year age gap between them, and the ultimate tragedy of its fleeting nature. “Better to have tried and failed,” remarks Oliver early in the film. It’s a comment both he and Elio will take to heart.
There is a universality to the themes of longing, loneliness, and desire, and it’s refreshing to see such an honest, fearless, and unapologetically hopeful LGBT story told. Many screenwriters and directors could (and should) take notes from Luca Guadagnino’s masterful playbook. Call Me By Your Name is a rich, visual treat, but its tenderness and charm solidify it as one of the best films of 2017.