Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name completes the Italian director’s trilogy of desire. Based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, this luxurious coming-of-age tale is a portrait of youthful infatuation complete with its highs and lows.
Guadagnino’s latest recounts a summer romance in 1980s Northern Italy between a precocious 17-year-old American-Italian boy named Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and a visiting 24-year-old American scholar, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Oliver arrives in Italy to work on his doctorate under Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specialising in Greco-Roman culture. “What do you do around here?” Oliver asks Elio as the pair ride into town for supplies. Elio’s response, “Just wait for summer to end”, accurately reflects how he winds down the days reading and transcribing music, but also speaks to his impatient desire to grow up and discover himself. Guadagnino fills his canvas with messy, heightened emotions, but avoids melodrama by weaving them indelibly within the film.
The results are a criminally seductive, almost antiquated love story, with Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s luminous cinematography and Yves-Marie Omnes and Jean-Pierre Laforce’s haptic sound design accentuating every tiny emotion. Amidst all the sun-drenched frolicking and lengthy dinner discussions about language, art and everything in between, Elio begins to experience strong feelings for their American guest. At first Oliver seems indifferent, almost dismissive of Elio, but as time passes the pair cannot help falling prey to their emotions. Due to their Jewish heritage and the disapproval of homosexuality in Catholic Italy, the pair keep their romance a secret. The screenplay penned by Guadagnino, Walter Fasano and James Ivory overflows with loquacious dialogue and lengthy scenes that prickle with intensity.
It’s in these seemingly inconsequential moments that the primal force of Elio and Oliver’s infatuation is most palpable, thanks primarily to the remarkable performances of Chalamet and Hammer. A sweet combination of shyness and pride, Chalamet’s inquisitive eyes harmonise perfectly with the yearning inside him whilst Hammer, often viewed eating with a shameless and methodical carnality, exudes the confidence and experience of a man who understands how to cultivate Elio’s pining. Their silent glances do most of the heavy-lifting, but Guadagnino’s instinctive feel for the emotional arithmetic of young love is indelibly stamped on these moments of self-restraint. Guadagnino has referred to it as “homage to the fathers in my life”, meaning both his own father and his cinematic idols.
The influence of grandmasters such as Renoir, Rivette and Rohmer can all be felt in the film’s clear articulation of furious desire, but it’s the exchanges between Elio and his father where the film is at its most heartbreaking. Arguably a more poignant relationship than the one between Elio and Oliver, a conversation between the two towards the end of the film will no doubt go down as one of the greatest father-son moments in cinema history. Capturing the agony and ecstasy of young love, Call Me by Your Name is a major addition to the queer cinema canon – a deeply felt movie that’s bittersweet, tender and true.
Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble