“Call Me By Your Name” is a dreamy, stylish and modern movie, yet it’s the most heartfelt I’ve seen this year. It’s set in an older time but touches on issues that still plague some of the most vulnerable in our society. It’s a lot of things but at its core the film is a classic romance and left me feeling peachy.
Its is the newest film by Italian director Luca Guadagnino. It’s based on a novel of the same name from 2007 by American writer Andre Aciman. The screenplay was adapted by James Ivory, known for directing “A Room with a View,” and it stars Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer.
The film has been nominated for three Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor for Chalamet (the youngest Best Actor nominee since 1931 at 22 years old) and Best Adapted Screenplay for James Ivory (the oldest male nominee this year at 89 years old).
The movie is set in 1980s Northern Italy, a sort of fairy tale dreamland that I’m still not confident could exist in real life because it’s so beautiful. It seems like the perfect place to fall in love and have a summer fling and also swim, dance, ride bikes, read, lie in a hammock and eat fresh fruit (and do other things with fruit). And that’s exactly what the two protagonists do, although it’s more than just a fling, and the story is not like any fairy tale I’ve ever read.
The film is a well-acted, well-directed and almost unbelievably stylish portrayal of a gay romance between two young men. The music is ethereal, and includes original songs from American indie folk artist Sufjan Stevens.
Elio (Chamalet) is a 17-year-old Italian-American musician, who spends his summers in Italy with his parents in a lavish countryside Italian villa. His parents are the epitome of high-class intellectuals. His dad, Mr. Perlman, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, is an archaeology professor, who studies Ancient Greece and Rome. The professor requires an assistant every summer, and that’s where Oliver (Hammer) comes in. He’s a 24-year-old American graduate student, studying under Perlman and living with his family for six weeks.
Six weeks might not seem like enough time to fall in love, but the script and the actors take their time. Also, the days never seem to end in Northern Italy. Elio is young, thoughtful and distant. He’s a trilingual musical prodigy, but he spends most of his time reading and writing alone. Chalamet plays him broodingly. Oliver is confident and loved by everyone who meets him, even the ones who think of him as a bit of an arrogant American ass.
Elio and Oliver become friends, and they admit to each other later they tried to send signals of their attraction, but at first they each tread lightly, unsure of how the other might react to advances. It’s unclear whether this relationship is the first time each character has been intimate with another man. We don’t know much of what happens on either side of these six weeks. We only witness a brief and intimate affair that sparks quickly and extinguishes just as abruptly. The book goes into more detail, but the film viewer is left with just these six dreamy weeks.
The movie climaxes, not in a peach, but in a thoughtful and compassionate monologue from Professor Perlman, which was copied almost word-for-word from the novel. Elio’s father and mother (Amira Casar) are silent spectators through the whole affair, but as we find out in the end, are absolutely supportive of their son.
The film’s portrayal of a gay romance hasn’t been without controversy. Richard Brody of The New Yorker says the characters are shells of real people and too much focus is given to plot points. Others say straight actors, like Chalamet and Hammer, shouldn’t be playing gay characters. Guadagnino responded to this one in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Such arguments are worth having, and they are important at a pivotal time when homosexuality becomes more visible on the big screen. However, I don’t think they should stop anyone from seeing the movie. It’s a beautiful film about a beautiful romance.