5 out of 5 stars.
“Call Me by Your Name” is set in rural Italy in the summer of 1983. Seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) lives there with his parents; his mom (Amira Casar) is a translator, and his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an archaeology professor. Elio, who spends much of his time reading and writing and playing music, is constantly surrounded by gorgeous works of art and history. It’s appropriate, as this film, directed by Luca Guadagnino and based on the novel by Andre Aciman, is a work of art in and of itself, a beautiful portrait of love that transcends any stigmas of society.
Elio’s father, Professor Perlman, takes on an American student as an intern for the summer. Oliver (Armie Hammer) is several years older than Elio, and more outgoing than the rather introspective teenager, who normally knows so much but is confused by his feelings for Oliver as the summer passes. Their relationship develops slowly, as they transition from not really seeing each other to going swimming together, or on bike rides to town, or accompanying the professor on his work trips. Elio tries different things to gauge Oliver’s reaction to him, including striking up a relationship with a local girl, Marzia (Esther Garrel). They do finally reach the point where they begin a passionate affair, one that of course can only end in heartbreak, as Oliver has to return to America at the end of the summer.
Guadagnino directs the story beautifully, taking full advantage of the idyllic setting and gorgeous classical score. In many ways, the setting feels so far from reality that it contributes to their idyllic relationship, which flourishes outside of the constraints of society. It’s refreshing, if perhaps too idealistic for the current state of society, to see a gay romance that spends time focusing solely on the romance, and not the ire of others. And so much time is spent developing their relationship, from their first meeting to their final departure, that it is powerful and real.
A lot of that has to do not only with the script and direction, but with the cast as well. Every actor in this film is fantastic, and even so, Chalamet runs circles around them with this star-making performance. Having already proved his talent in this year’s “Ladybird,” this film allows Chalamet to explore a full range of emotions, often with little to no dialogue, as his character works through feelings he’s never had before, leading up to the heart-wrenching final scenes. Hammer gives the performance of his career as the charming Oliver, whose laid back attitude that initially intrigues Elio gives way to a surprising tenderness. Stuhlbarg has the most profound moment at the end of the film, cementing his place in one of the most memorable movie moments of the year, as well as taking home the award for most understanding parent of the year.
“Call Me by Your Name” is emotionally devastating, but in the best way possible. The melancholy finale may be what the audience initially leaves the theatre with, but it’s the powerful love—one that, as Elio’s father points out, is special—between the film’s two leads that lingers long after.
Runtime: 132 minutes. Rated PG-13.