Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, “Call Me By Your Name,” isn’t necessarily a gay movie at all, at least, not in the sense of being limited to LGBT festivals and audiences. It’s much, much more.
Adapted from André Aciman’s sublime coming-out/coming-of-age novel, the story is about first love, an experience we can all connect with and, it transcends the same-sex dynamic much like “Moonlight” did.
Acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, the story centers around 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), his summer and his American summer guest Oliver (Armie Hammer). Their innocent, sweet love affair is set in sun-kissed Northern Italy.
Co-written by Walter Fasano and James Ivory (“Maurice” and “A Room With a View”) the story unfolds at the Perlmans’ vacation home, which is a spacious old villa. Every summer, Elio’s professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) hires a promising young doctoral student to assist with his research. This year, the Jewish family’s house guest is a 24-year-old beauty with a physique that makes people sigh.
Oliver’s arrival stirs something in young Elio, yet the teen is slow to confront his feelings. He’s immediately confused, which is often the case with fresh, young love. He’s compelled to spend as much time with the newcomer as possible, serving as his guide on bike rides to town and frequent trips to the local swimming hole. And yet, at the same time, he’s protective of his own feelings, unsure how to read Oliver’s casual American attitude.
It’s also filled with visual eye-candy. Each scene paints a picture that highlights the chemistry developing between Elio and Oliver. Under Guadagnino’s eye, we are tempted, as well, looking at the freshly prepared Italian breakfast, tree branches bursting with ripe fruit and the radiant glow of the sun illuminating young, dewy skin.
Elio and his family have spent numerous summers in Lombardy, but by the way Elio interacts with longtime girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel), it’s clear that there is something different this time. When the youth brags about an opportunity to lose his virginity to Marzia, he carefully monitors Oliver’s reaction, which indicates interest. Oliver walks carefully, reviewing the fact that Elio is inexperienced and also his boss’s son. So their mutual seduction becomes a dance, with each parading around shirtless and leaving the doors to their shared bathroom open just enough to invite the imagination to spark.
Hammer as Oliver delivers a pitch-perfect embodiment of youthful self-confidence, and yet, there’s an endearing vulnerability in the way he needs for Elio to make the first move. Newcomer Chalamet is the perfect picture of hot-blooded animal energy.
As the attraction between Elio and Oliver becomes more apparent, the question becomes how much of their “friendship” actually registers with Elio’s parents. Perhaps the boy’s mother (Amira Casar) catches on and has sympathy for the young lovers’ plight, even going so far as to suggest that the two spend a few days alone together before Oliver returns to New Jersey. As for Elio’s father he bares his soul via a moving monologue delivered after the boy returns home—putting to rest a question subtly raised earlier in the film.
This tremendous and moving conversation has an important impact. There is strong implication that the relationship between the two young leads, on looking back on that summer, might be Elio’s bittersweet embellishment of his memory.