Considering director’s Luca Guadagnino last two exceptional filmic outputs; the provocative A Bigger Splash and the elegant I Am Love; Call Me by Your Name had pretty big shoes to fill. Luckily, this film does not disappoint; the opposite in-fact, Guadagnino has surely surpassed himself. Every single component of this film, from the acting to the plot, style, cinematography, music etc. its just all seamlessly woven together to produce such a fine-looking masterpiece.
17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is the son of Jewish Italian academics Mr Pearlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife Annella (Amira Casar). The family reside in an idyllic Tuscan style villa somewhere in rural Northern Italy (exact location is undisclosed). It’s the summer of 1983 where the rather dashing American 24-year-old grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer) is invited to come spend the summer to work alongside the professor. Elio slowly becomes enamoured with Oliver and after some subtle tug of war between the two; to Elio’s pleasant surprise his infatuation is reciprocated. A sweet and hidden romance blossoms only for it to end when Oliver returns to the US.
Chamelet is superb as Elio, possessing an innate understanding of his character. His performance flawlessly blends a mixture of adult confidence with teenage innocence.Hammer is equally wholesome and incredibly captivating as Oliver. He is a total beefcake; humorous at times with his whole goofy, intellectual American tourist vibe.
There are moments where Elio owns his sexuality; freely exploring sex with local girl Marzia (Esther Garrel) but simultaneously open to sexual feelings for Oliver. Other instances when upon reflection he is unsure of it. He becomes distant after the first sexual encounter with Oliver; perhaps his Jewish background or it being the early 80s in Northern Italy start to tinge the moment with feelings of regret. Only then to be knocked back into the haze of their passion, as Oliver proceeds to tease him with an unfinished blowjob.
The build-up of the crush, and the sensuality it arouses within the viewer shows the eloquence in storytelling by Andre Acima, the author of the novel the film is based on. Elio is at first intrigued, an initial attraction to Oliver’s good looks morphs into slight annoyance at Oliver’s supposed obliviousness and antagonism towards him. As their rooms share an adjoining bathroom, Elio is reminded of Oliver’s presence through constant glimpses and sounds; which ultimately heighten his curiosity into a full-blown teenage crush. We are unaware of Oliver’s inclinations only until the moment where they find themselves in an intimate moment; alone,lying in the sun by the side of a stony road; the barriers come down and they eventually kiss.
Guadagnino tantalizes his audience with sophisticated and sometimes daring sex scenes; presented in a refreshingly playful and natural manner. The intricate nuisances of their sex encounters are raw and authentic. The first time they have sex, Elio is completely overcome by just a touch of Oliver’s, like a cat being stroked, its all-consuming desire. Other sex scenes are more intrepid and rather amusing such Elio masturbating over Oliver’s swimming trunks or when he ejaculates in a ripe peach for want over a better place, for Oliver to boldly proceed to eat it.
The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom allows the light emitted by sun and the moon, the ambience of the surrounding nature, the sparse architecture and the movement of people occupy the scenes, contributing to a pleasurable sense of abundance and vibrancy; all dressed in this retro 80s casual style. There is a wealth of al fresco dinner scenes; as a constant stream of guests come and go; passionate discussions, copious wine drinking and chain-smoking. The neighbouring little town littered with statues of local heroes with quaint cafes serving coffee and grappa next to a large stone built cathedral. It’s all so visually gorgeous; accompanied by a lush, experimental backing track of Sufjan Stevens, often interrupted by some Italo disco or Joy Division song blaring from a youth’s car radio.
Call Me by Your Name is pure opulence; rich in visual fodder; rich in style, rich in drama, emotion and presented with delicate refinement and finesse; a simply mesmerising to watch.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.