Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is a young man coming of age in Italy in the 1980s staying at a villa during the summer. He meets Oliver (Arnie Hammer) who is staying with them as a student of Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). While the reserved and artistically driven Elio is initially hostile to their larger-than-life and exuberant guest, the two eventually begin a passionate affair in the midst of the reserved culture and their Jewish heritage.
When I first heard of Call Me by Your Name, I initially wrote it off as yet another overwrought melodrama once again persecuting a same sex couple as having their lives be so horrible because they lived in the way that made sense to them. Now, don’t get me wrong-there’s a lot of truisms in those stories, and to deny them is to deny history, but I think there are more sweet and uplifting stories you can tell about same sex couples that unfortunately tend to get a little bogged down by the tragedy. I could not have been more wrong here, however. While this film is not above handling the drama of being gay in the 1980s, it’s also an incredibly sensual and romantic look at young love and the joys of discovering your sexuality.
There’s a great intimacy to Luca Guadagnino’s work-like his previous movie A Bigger Splash, I feel like I’m taking a really relaxing and fulfilling holiday. Not only with the lush and very cosily lit cinematography, but just the explorative and curious atmosphere that plays throughout. There’s a great wonder both sensually and intellectually, a wonder that reflects right onto the audience as they discover these things with these characters. There’s just this great humanistic quality to the proceedings, inasmuch as there’s not a lot of plot, but I still feel like I’ve learned something as we progress.
The cast are all wonderful here, the biggest focus being on our two leads. Timothée Chalamet is both surprisingly profound and yet still deeply immature as Elio. While he’s kind of grumpy and standoffish near the start, he’s never unlikeable, and that’s down to Chalamet injecting a sense of humanity into the role. Arnie Hammer is a revelation in this part, mostly because I would never have guessed he could act! He really embraces the material and feels as flamboyant and confident as the part demands-you really get why people take such a shine to him. Elio’s parents are also really well cast; Amira Casar plays the doting wife Anella with a wonderful sense of style and sophistication, deeply intelligent and yet disconnected from her husband and son. Michael Stahlberg has a warm and inviting presence as the more optimistic member of the family, and carries what is probably the story’s most emotional moment.
The one thing giving this movie a lot of publicity is the two new tracks from Sufjan Stevens. Outside of 80s pop songs played intermittently throughout, the music is sparse, which helps hyper focus on the more implicit emotions of the characters. I shan’t give away when Stevens tracks appear, but they are a highlight. They perfectly fit the tone and moment they are implemented, and add a sense of majesty to those scenes. I have to give credit to the sound effects, which take up the job of the lack of score to set a mood when appropriately used. I also really appreciate the dialogue-it’s got a lyrical quality, yet still sounds surprisingly authentic.
Call Me by Your Name may not be the most exciting of films, but it is one of the more immersive and sensual. There’s a great physicality that puts you right in that mood with the characters. With stunning acting and a wonderfully well thought out soundtrack, it takes a concept well used in film and manages to say something new and interesting with the proceedings. It goes down like a well ripened peach.