Based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel, Luca Guadagnino directs a sexy, stunning film that will tunnel its way into your heart and live there. Timothée Chalamet plays Elio Perlman, a 17-year-old Jewish Italian-American boy who lives in Italy with his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) in 1980s Italy. Mr. Perlman is a professor, and Oliver (Armie Hammer) is a visiting scholar who arrives to spend the summer with the Perlmans. Oliver and Elio develop a friendship and, slowly, a romance, over the course of this beautiful summer.
There’s a lovely, languid freedom to Call Me By Your Name, as if we’re all invited to spend the summer reading, swimming, waxing philosophical, eating soft-boiled eggs and drinking apricot juice with the Perlmans in their beautiful home. The film glows in greens and golds, feeling like dusk or dawn in its every shot, a magic hour that lasts the entirety of its running time.
There’s nothing rushed or forced here, and there’s really very little conflict on the surface, at least not in the way we expect it. Elio’s dream parents love him for himself and encourage his deepening friendship with Oliver, and Oliver truly intends to do as right by Elio as he possibly can in this unexpected situation. But of course running through the entire film is the inherent tension that comes from watching a gay romance that takes place in the 1980s, and watching what will surely become a wonderful young man’s first heartbreak.
Because Elio is a wonderful young man. He’s a musician and composer, a reader of everything. ("Is there nothing you don't know?") He’s charismatic and confident. He's astonishingly open with his emotions. That this teenage boy holds his own so completely against a man (and a godlike man such as this one) like Armie Hammer’s Oliver makes for a compelling surprise. Oliver is this tall, muscular, golden presence who sweeps into the Perlmans’ lives and woos them all with his intellect and charisma, and his deep-down goodness. But Elio, in his impossible maturity, his talent and composure, continues to draw Oliver’s attention to him, even when everyone else is paying attention to Oliver.
Elio and Oliver are instantly drawn to one another, but the romance takes its time, cautious and meandering, building the sort of tension that only comes from gorgeously delayed gratification. When the moment arrives, when the gratification is no longer delayed, the audience sighs in relief. The anticipation has become almost excruciating; the pay-off is exquisite. The sex scenes between Elio and Oliver are overwhelmingly sensual, the desire they feel for each other infecting all of us, inviting us into their intimacy.
There are so many moments that stand out in Call Me By Your Name: Elio sits, smoking, as he watches Oliver dance; they take opposite paths around a statue of Venus and then meet on the other side; Oliver massages Elio’s feet as his nose bleeds. Everything is memorable, and often quite funny, but it’s a warm, gentle humor. This is such an erudite, appealing group of people, and the film lets us in on their jokes, their terrific cleverness. Stuhlbarg in particular radiates such kindness and wisdom, always in the background until one phenomenal monologue near the end of the film.
We love these people. Our hearts break for Elio and yearn for Oliver. We want parents just like the Perlmans. We utterly sympathize with the hapless women who are falling for Elio and Oliver just as we are. We swim and bike and read and spread Nutella on toast with them. In two hours, we experience the most beautiful summer of our lives, a perfect first romance.
It’s a little shaggy and the Sufjan Stevens-heavy soundtrack is often more distracting than it is accommodating, but what small complaints to make in a film as enchanting and rich as this one. We are incredibly fortunate to be witness to Elio and Oliver’s romance. Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful gift of a film, one that is meant to be treasured and savored for years to come.