Coming of age story set in 1980s Italy. A romance blossoms between a 17 year-old and an older man hired as his father's assistant. James Ivory became the oldest Oscar winner for Best Screenplay.
Many critics were enamoured of Luca Guadagnino’s last two features, I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015), both of which set Tilda Swinton’s uniquely self-enclosed sensuality against striking Italian backdrops (Milan and San Remo in the former, the Sicilian coast in the latter). I found them beautiful yet bloodless, lacking a certain warmth.
Call me by your name on n the other hand, radiates heat. It is a lush, lusty affair, all pounding hearts and blazing loins. Guadagnino has shown a fondness for imbuing the gastronomic with metaphorical significance; in his fifth feature he gives us splattered egg yolks and blood dripping on to lamb chops, and a repeated motif of ripening fruit, culminating in a sex scene involving peaches that will no doubt become notorious. Not since American Pie (1999) has fruit been so thoroughly defiled.
The peach scene is lifted almost exactly from the 2007 novel by André Aciman, an American scholar specialising in the work of Proust. It is a story of adolescent sexual awakening set in the well-appointed home of an academic in mid-1980s Italy.
Elio is the 17-year-old only child of American professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his beautiful, cosmopolitan wife (Amira Casar). Until now he has been mostly heterosexual and has an ongoing flirtation with childhood friend Marzia. But when 24-year-old Oliver, the latest in a series of visiting postdocs to spend a summer at the villa, usurps Elio’s bedroom, he also seizes Marzia’s place in Elio’s sexual fantasies. We first glimpse Oliver with Elio from an upper window; as he mounts the staircase, Marzia casually kisses him, as if passing on the mantle.
Oliver (Armie Hammer, perfectly cast) is the aggressively handsome embodiment of all things American: an academic who speaks in abbreviations though he is clearly extremely articulate, as demonstrated by a grandstanding monologue on the etymology of the word ‘apricot’. Elio is puppyish, wiry rather than chiselled, more naive than the older man but also sensitive and reckless. Timothée Chalamet is sensational in the role: fierce and articulate, his hooded eyes flickering with secret thoughts. He looks a little like Melvil Poupaud or Louis Garrel (whose sister Esther coincidentally stars as Marzia), but he has a purposefulness they lack.
For much of the film little happens, and we watch Elio and Oliver move in circles while seemingly no closer to making a move. One feels the influence of Eric Rohmer (Aciman is an admirer) and James Ivory (the film’s screenwriter), that great chronicler of repressed desire. The tone is languorous but the pace restless. Scenes are short and cuts abrupt. It’s not clear whether Elio wants to be Oliver – borrowing his swimsuits, copying the Star of David he wears around his neck – or have him. Despite their physical differences, the would-be lovers seem strangely fungible as they trade bedrooms, clothes and names.
Of course, Call Me by Your Name is a queer film, albeit one that has more in common with the work of André Téchiné than Barry Jenkins: the milieu is so middle-class it’s almost fantastic, packed with references to antiquity, to Liszt and Bach, Heidegger and Heraclitus. In this regard and in others, Guadagnino is remarkably faithful to Aciman’s text, though he transposes the action from the Italian Riviera to the Lombardy countryside and streamlines the narrative by culling certain characters. He also – intriguingly – does away with a framing device that casts the main narrative as a flashback (the book has the men meet in middle age, while Guadagnino’s film finishes six months after the events of the summer).
Still, the film retains a certain Proustian sensibility. The camera pays an almost hyperreal attention to detail, poring over certain words and touches with the obsessiveness of an infatuated teenager. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s regular DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s images are precise, saturated with cerulean blues, limoncello yellows, cherry reds and blushing apricots, but at the same time slightly worn and fuzzy, like a well-washed shirt. The world beyond Elio and Oliver’s immediate sphere is somehow faded (women, in particular, seem to hover out of focus in the background). Even the sound edit seems to over-amplify their voices.
The 1980s period setting heightens this effect. Call Me by Your Name is awash with details such as a Robert Mapplethorpe print, a Talking Heads T-shirt, a Penguin Classic. At an outdoor discotheque, Elio and Oliver dance to The Psychedelic Furs. It’s a backdrop that will raise a fond smile for many viewers. But Guadagnino’s setting is in a sense a platonic ideal of the 1980s. How many of us were ever so lithe and gorgeous, so intelligent and self-possessed? How many of us once knew the longing, and how many, really, the having? As Professor Perlman tells his son in an extraordinarily moving scene, a love like Elio and Oliver’s is rare indeed, and before we even know it, our best days our behind us. On the strength of this film, let’s hope that Guadagnino’s are not.
Catherine Wheatley, Sight and Sound,
Let’s bite right into the sweetest part of the fruit while it’s ripe. There’s a scene near the end of Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s novel Call Me By Your Name between Michael Stuhlbarg and Timothée Chalamet that is, I feel confident in saying, one of the best exchanges between father and son in the history of cinema. We’ll all be quoting from it for the rest of our lives.
For many it will be a moment of wish fulfilment, and that may go doubly for queer people whose parents tragically reject them for their nature. The scene is touching and triumphant, but it wouldn’t work on an island. It comes after a build-up, an unhurried coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Italy reminiscent of the best of Eric Rohmer, Bernardo Bertolucci and André Téchiné, in which Elio (Chalamet) falls in love with Oliver (Armie Hammer) and needs to decide how he’ll direct the rest of his life.
Oliver is the latest in a string of annual research assistants joining professor Perlman (Stuhlbarg) at his family’s fabulous summer villa. Elio’s father is an archaeologist/art historian, and his French mother (Amira Casar) recites German poetry, translating it on the fly as the two men in her life cuddle up with her on the couch. For fun Elio transcribes classical piano scores, which he can also transpose to guitar. The Perlman family is one that can slip a reference to Heidegger into conversation and no one will bat an eye.
It’s a world where the broad-shouldered, blond Oliver fits in nicely. He savagely owns professor Perlman with his mad etymology skills, breaking down the word “apricot” to its Latin, Greek and Arabic roots. His half-unbuttoned shirt reveals a Star of David necklace, which catches 17-year-old Elio by surprise. (Elio later explains that his mother considers the Perlmans “Jews in discretion” in the sleepy northern Italian vacation village.) At first Elio is annoyed by Oliver, but quickly becomes infatuated. How Oliver feels about Elio is more of a mystery, but as the days and nights continue (so many meals outside! And dancing to the Psychedelic Furs!) the invitations to “go for a swim” eventually turn intimate.
Of the numerous fascinating, nuanced and realistic facets to their relationship, it’s hard at times to determine who is the driving force. Elio seems the aggressor, and unashamed about his feelings. (Though why is he so determined that his family’s gay friends catch him smooching a vacationing French girl?) Oliver seems so lithe, but are his initial rejections meant to protect Elio, or is he himself panicked about doing “something bad”? Luckily, this is a movie wise enough for its characters to be a little contradictory.
Luca Guadagnino’s last two films, A Bigger Splash and I Am Love, were both highly stylised, with dazzling extreme closeups, high-speed editing and brash musical selections. To put it in blunt terms, he reels it in this time. Scenes play out at a pace more befitting a summer in the Italian sun, and while there’s no shortage of well-placed props (a Robert Mapplethorpe print here, a Talking Heads T-shirt there) the natural settings and ancient cities are enough to keep the frame looking marvellous. A lesser film-maker (and co-writers including Walter Fasano and the great 88-year-old James Ivory) would probably cut the scene where bike-riding Elio and Oliver ask for a glass of water from an old woman peeling beans outside an old house. But these are the true-to-life grace notes that make this film so touching.
Call Me By Your Name is a masterful work because of the specificity of its details. This is not a love story that “just happens to be gay”. The level of trust and strength these characters share brings a richness that is not necessarily known to a universal audience. But the craft on display from all involved is an example, yet again, of how movies can create empathy in an almost spiritual way. This is a major entry in the canon of queer cinema.
Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian, 23 January 2017.
|22 (47%)||15 (32%)||4 (9%)||5 (11%)||1 (2%)|
Total Number of Responses: 47
Film Score (0-5): 4.11
112 members and guests attended this screening with 47 responses providing a hit rate 42%.
Two phrases stand out in your reviews and both are contained here “Beautiful film and wonderfully acted. Elios part expressed so movingly the passion of youth. Oh if only all fathers were so understanding of their sons!! I loved this film!” another member told us “Amazing acting. Thought provoking – made me question my views”.
“After an hour I would have given this an excellent rating, then found the "affair" section just went on a bit too long, although it was sensitively handled. The father son chat towards the end redeemed it so, although I rated this film very good, I thought it was borderline excellent! Beautiful scenery and what a gorgeous house and garden. Timothée Chalamet was outstanding. It was a shame Oliver's side of the final telephone conversation was mostly indecipherable, but we got the gist. Thanks”. “A good film! The heat and ripe fruit of the Italian summer at the charming country home of an intellectual family creating the perfect setting for a very believable passionate summer romance. Elio and Oliver making a beautiful couple. Good performances...but maybe 20 minutes too long”.
“Ah: the first cut is the deepest. The arc of pleasure and pain of first love, that must surely be familiar to us all, given a twist and extra level of tension here by being between two men, neither of whom seem to be entirely certain of their sexuality. The sunny reflexions in water and young man uncomfortable in his skin reminiscent of that other awkward affair in 'The Graduate', the summer heat redolent of the sexual tensions in 'The Go-between', superb cinematography and ripe, gorgeous Italian summer similar to 'Claire's knee' and 'Pauline at the beach'. A familiar tale told in crisp, simple, believable scenes without melodrama in which no-one is in the wrong; understanding lovers of both sexes, sympathetic parents and performances of relaxed confidence. Chalamet is superb and nowhere better than in his utter desolation at the end of the film”.
“Very tender, very human. Haven’t we all wanted things that we fear we should not want, dare not do?? How brave to dare to do it”. “Quite an experience!! Beautifully filmed – beautiful scenery, settings, villa town”. “Exceptional performance by young actor Timothée Chalamet. Not so convinced by Oliver (found him a bit “cheesy”! I loved the soundtrack of modern and classical. So good to hear the Psychedelic Furs again”. “Beautifully filmed and so well acted. Powerful and restrained”. “A brilliant and very effective match of location and genuine moving relationships”. “Exquisite. Beautifully shot – I loved the soundtrack. Very emotional. Good pace and so easy to enjoy”. “Bella Italia – great acting – I loved the film and the girls”. “Beautifully and tastefully acted. Elio was brilliantly acted as a coming of age young man. Wonderful scenery”.
All other comments are on the website.
“Wow, a film about shirts and sexuality ... Thought it a beautiful film, highlighting feelings with which we can (mostly) identify; summer romances that seem like true love, obsession, something temporary, (especially through dancing). Carpe diem came to mind throughout. Thought the film was melancholic, but joyous as well! Script and direction point us well towards the 'beyond friendship' starting with discussion of "16th century French romance" when Elio begins to confess his feelings for Oliver, full of longing glances and things left unspoken. I was drawn in by Hammer and Chalamet throughout. At the end when professor says "Before you know it, your heart is worn out" I did wonder what we'd see next. Ending was strikingly good, and the credits rolling as tears start. Liked the cultural references from the 80s, especially Psychedelic Furs. You don't have to be part of the LGBT community to be truly immersed in an LGBT story. But wondered if this sensually romantic film almost tried too hard to avoid being a queer film”.
“Beautiful scenery, music and very touching story. Beautifully acted. Slow burn but the pace was right”. “Very moving – great acting and held me throughout”. “Amazing musical score, wonderful acting”. “A beautiful film”. “Wonderful story, beautifully told”. “Very sensitive film”. “Beautifully shot and very moving”. “Beautiful scenery and acting by a perfect cast. A sad story however of an older man taking advantage of a teenager who was not sure of his sex. What ugly cast!!!”
“Stunning, touching, wonderful”. “Coming of age movie. Beautifully shot. Very moving. Father/Son relationship very poignant”. “A bit too slow. But loved the beautiful relationship between parents and their son. Can’t wait to read responses next time”. “Beautiful cinematography – stunning. Loved the music. Elio and Oliver very good acting”. “ A very moving coming of age story – agonies and pain. The scene with the father particularly moving. The film was a tad too long…” “Sensitively handled and very moving”. “Beautifully set with excellent acting (Elio especially) but far too drawn out – at times boring”. “Too long. Too many false climaxes – too many real climaxes – Pantalleria?” “Film too long – tried to cover too much. Only redeeming feature was Elios acting. Made the best of a story too long”. “Extremely boring and the two guys just didn’t work for me – too much like Batman and Robin”. “A delicate and sensitive portrayal of the development of young love – but oh did it drag”. “So tedious – couldn’t wait for it to finish. On and on long after point made. And what the opposite of erotic? Not unneurotic – diserotic? Nose truly rubbed in it”.