Call Me By Your Name 

Lucious amore among the ruins

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Remember when you were a teenager (or, if you are still a teenager, remember yesterday) and the mere sight of your crush made it hard to breathe? When it seemed like you and they were the only two people in the world? When all you had to do to have a good time was sit and stare at each other? That is basically what Call Me by Your Name is about, for better and for worse.

Seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) has a life many would envy. His parents are archeologists and academics who split their time between teaching in America in the spring and fall and living in a haphazardly restored villa in northern Italy in the summer. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) supervises underwater archeological digs around the Grottos of Catullus, while his mother (Amira Casar) translates German poetry in the apricot orchard. Elio is a budding concert pianist, and his summertime life is split between practicing his music and lounging around various picaresque lakes with other displaced teenagers. But Elio, being a teenager, describes his idyllic existence as "waiting for the summer to be over."

Every summer, a grad student stays with the family at the villa for six weeks, using the time to work on their thesis. This year it's Oliver (Armie Hammer), a linguist who easily passes the father's test questions about the etymology of the word apricot. Since it's 1983, Oliver is a fan of Giorgio Moroder and the Psychedelic Furs, an awkward dancer, and a total hunk. Elio has to move to the guest bedroom when Oliver arrives, so at first he's a little resentful of the newcomer. But that resentment quickly turns to fascination, and more. Being 17, Elio is in the midst of a sexual awakening — in other words, he's super horny all the time. His dalliance with Marzia (Esther Garrel), a young Parisian girl who, like him, is in town for the summer, is turning hot and heavy. But it's his attraction to Oliver that is the biggest surprise of his short life.

Fortunately for Elio, it turns out that Oliver is bisexual, too, and he's noticed his young housemate's attraction. Their age difference — Oliver is postgraduate while Elio is high school aged — and the fact that he is a guest in his teacher's house make him very reluctant to act on his attraction, so he spends the first few weeks of his working vacation chasing Italian girls around the village. But as time passes, their mutual attraction overcomes their reason, and the pair start an affair for the ages.

click to enlarge Timothée Chalamet (left) and Armie Hammer star in Luca Guadagnio’s new film, Call Me by Your Name, based on the novel by André Aciman.
  • Timothée Chalamet (left) and Armie Hammer star in Luca Guadagnio’s new film, Call Me by Your Name, based on the novel by André Aciman.

Call Me by Your Name is the third film in what director Luca Guadagnino calls his "Desire trilogy." As exemplified by his previous work, 2015's A Bigger Splash, the through line seems to be beautiful people hanging out in Italy alternately trying to and not to have sex with each other. Guadagnino is obsessed with the first rush of desire, and the agonizing wait to fulfill it. Call Me by Your Name is a long, slow burn, as Elio and Oliver each contemplate forbidden fruit — which in this case is an apricot, not an apple, and, in one squicky scene late in the picture, not metaphorical at all.

Beyond the sexual, the biggest desire the film will inspire is the desire to visit Italy. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom plays with the soft but brilliant Lombardi light to create images that seem like a moving Renaissance painting, or a two-hour travelogue with Italian sexytime interludes. The story was adapted from the novel of the same name by André Aciman, with a screenplay by James Ivory, the 89-year-old producer, director, and writer of Merchant Ivory fame. The production company was responsible for a string of high production value period pieces in the 1980s and 1990s, including A Room With a View, and Howard's End. Guadagnino has absorbed some of that Merchant Ivory mojo, with its sotto vocce emotions and divine European languor. But he's also fallen victim to his inspiration's vices as well. As Elio and Oliver slowly circle each other, the movie walks a fine line between amorous tranquility and a nap in the sunshine. But the raw performance from Best Actor nominee Chalamet and the finely nuanced object of his desire Hammer put Call Me by Your Name next to Brokeback Mountain and Blue Is the Warmest Color on the list of the best queer love stories of the 21st century.


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