Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
“Original” is a word that only very basically describes this adaptation of André Aciman’s novel. The third instalment of Luca Guadagnino’s “Desire” trilogy, Call Me by Your Name potentially breaks new ground, not only in its themes but in what it visually portrays. Armie Hammer steps out of his stereotypical male roles into something completely different, whilst newcomer Timothée Chalamet proves just why he was nominated for Rising Star at the BAFTAs and Best Actor at the BAFTAs, Oscars (at the time of writing) and Golden Globes. While the film stands firmly in its uniqueness, is it the sort of film the world is truly ready for?
Call Me by Your Name is a snapshot in the story of Elio (Chalamet), a very cultured seventeen-year-old spending the summer with his parents at their beautiful country home in 1983 northern Italy. It’s Elio’s coming-of-age story, but as is likely true for most young men coming to understand themselves and their sexuality, it’s not a straightforward coming-of-age, particularly when the introduction of his father’s research assistant, 24-year-old American Oliver (Hammer), throws a spanner in the works. Despite spending time, both innocently and intimately, with a French girl, Marzia (Esther Garrel), Elio finds himself increasingly attracted to Oliver, and tests the waters of Oliver’s feelings towards him very bravely and curiously, resulting in one of the most beautiful and honest relationships perhaps ever represented onscreen.
Between Guadagnino’s direction and James Ivory’s screenplay, the story grows very warmly, both through the dialogue and the visuals. The Italian summer setting pulls you in and makes you feel like you are there amongst the fields and remote villages, something that also happens through the magnificent performances. Every sound, every visual, every word of dialogue has a reason to be there and as a result it feels natural and real, something that is reflected in the relationship between Oliver and Elio. Guadagnino’s choices in angles and shots all drip with meaning but not in an arrogant way – they are there to be obvious to the audience and to make them think, such as after a heavy night of drinking for Oliver and Elio, Guadagnino introduces some out-of-focus close ups and a very short flashback using negative film, perhaps highlighting the blurring of the lines of Elio and Oliver’s burgeoning relationship (as well as the obvious fact they were really rather drunk). Everything has been filmed and edited carefully and thoughtfully and gives the story the depth and authenticity that has glittered it with award nominations.
It’s tough to think of where to start when it comes to performances as the film is overflowing with astounding, possibly career-defining work. Michael Stuhlberg is ideal as Elio’s archaeology professor father, only known as Mr. Perlman, an extremely open minded, worldly and accepting individual. Stuhlberg’s way with dialogue not only draws you in but you also feel like he is your father, a feeling mentioned by Oliver when he tells Elio that he felt as though Mr. Perlman had accepted him into the family when he could see how close Elio and Oliver had become. It gives you a sense of security when following Elio on his journey, as there is no fear of parental repercussions (something that becomes obvious when two family friends, a gay couple, are invited to dinner at the Perlman home). Stuhlberg’s delivery of a life-lesson monologue towards the end really brings home the fatherly love Mr. Perlman has for his son, and is a demonstration of exactly how the father of a gay son should be (perhaps minus the more conservative advice that would have been appropriate of 1983 but isn’t entirely necessary today). Amira Casar as Elio’s mother, Annella, is a wonderful portrayal of a caring parent, albeit perhaps a little ignorant of Elio’s situation whether she is aware or not.
Perhaps the standout performance of his career so far, Armie Hammer is captivating as the intriguing Oliver. Stepping away from his usual style of performance, Hammer delves into a role that is quite unlike any he has previously undertaken. At times he is quiet and studious and then at others he is wise yet childlike, a suitable partner to the maturing Elio. Despite only being 31-years-old, Hammer is looking at a career-best performance, at least so far. As Oliver he leads Elio through his transition the same way Elio’s father leads him out of being a teenager and into a man dealing with very adult feelings. The chemistry between Oliver and Elio is undeniable and instinctive, their attraction seeming fateful rather than coincidental, and it’s clear to see the understanding and trust between Hammer and Chalamet, a rarity in any onscreen relationship, yet alone a homosexual one. It’s gorgeously portrayed and painfully raw at times, irrefutably relatable no matter your sexual orientation. Hammer takes the lead when needs be, and Chalamet follows and grows in his character and performance as the story, and Elio, blossoms.
Chalamet is absolutely the star of the film, without a doubt. His performance as Elio is joyful, poignant, thought-provoking and, perhaps both best and worst of all, entirely relatable. Being a young man of twenty-two, Chalamet is not far off the age of Elio and so the transitioning from teenager to adult was quite likely still fresh in his mind, allowing him to perhaps dig into some personal experiences within his performance and make it all the more authentic. At times when there is no dialogue everything is said through Chalamet’s body language and features, a real measure of just how gifted he is. One scene in particular that ends the film and the credits start over proves to be an extremely powerful way to bring the film to a close, in that it feels like it is only the beginning of Elio’s story, a story that is very easy to lose yourself in thanks to Chalamet’s ability to give such a grounded yet emotional performance. It is a mark of his very natural talent – he is certainly one to keep a watchful eye on in his future work.
As to the question of the world being ready for this story, the short and quick answer is a resounding yes. This film is one the world is not only ready for, but sorely needs. Society, for the most part, has come a long way in accepting people for who they are and what they want, and stories such as Call Me by Your Name only help to educate the uneducated and inspire and strengthen those who can relate. It is stunning from start to finish and the love for the story and characters from all the filmmakers and performers is truly palpable. It’d be surprising if anyone came away from watching this film without either having learnt or felt something that resonated somewhere deep within.