Call Me By Your Name


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name - the sensitive and cultivated Elio, the only child of the American-Italian-French Perlman family, is facing another lazy summer at his parents’ villa in the beautiful and languid Italian countryside when Oliver, an academic who has come to help with Elio’s father’s research, arrives.
"It is fundamentally a film about the workings of infatuation with a charmed fever that contaminates its characters." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

The majority of Luca Guadagnino's mesmerizing tale of first love, based on the novel by André Aciman, with a screenplay by James Ivory, is set in a beautiful, lived-in, perfectly imperfect 17th century villa and its surroundings near a small village in northern Italy. It is the summer of 1983 and teenage Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and his parents are expecting this year's summer guest.

Oliver (Armie Hammer better than ever) is the chosen graduate student, invited by Elio's professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) to do research with him and enjoy the enchanted place. Conversations in the house and with friends switch effortlessly between English, Italian and French. The peaches ripen on the trees for the taking. Hidden ponds and ancient pools invite to a dip. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom delivers the magic.

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Elio's feelings are thrown into turmoil from the first moment Oliver arrives. The way Guadagnino shows the fascinating dance of seduction, longing, doubt, courage, excitement and everything else that love entails, is as detailed and precise as it is universal. We are dropped into the holiday routine of the Perlmans without much warning as though we were ghostly guests ourselves who have to figure out who is family, who servant, who friend or neighbour.

People do their thing in this impeccably outfitted house that speaks of the inhabitants' personal tastes and their sweeping access to education and art of all kind. Elio has a poster of Le Mans '82 on the wall and one of Robert Mapplethorpe. People read books. All the time. They wear braided belts (that made me wish I still had mine). The food on the table doesn't look pretentious but realistic. There is Nesquick and Nutella next to the produce of the land at breakfast.

A good life does not need to come across as precious and insincere and we should wonder why it so often does in movies. Not here. The newly arrived guest, Oliver, messes up his soft-boiled egg - badly. We watch him through Elio's eyes. What follows is a sensual guidebook of infatuation. We humans are not fascinated by perfection - quite the opposite. The object cause of desire manifests itself in all the little misinterpreted obstacles - a mechanism Call Me By Your Name explores visually unlike any other film.

The summer of 1983 is flawlessly given shape by costume designer Giulia Piersanti through unobtrusive polo shirts, high-waisted front pleat shorts and skirts, provoking less a sentiment of nostalgia for an era, than for a much more specific state of mind. A curiosity about human beings and an openness. It is the rapt season of Heidegger and apricots, Heraclitus and disco dancing, Heart Of Darkness and waterfalls.

Elio's eyes linger on the newcomer's necklace and he clearly wonders why Oliver might demonstratively identify as Jewish this way. We know this without a word spoken. Oliver wipes the seat of the bike before riding it. He says "later" and dashes off, haughty rudeness a charm in itself.

Armie Hammer, with sunglasses often dangling at a very low button of his open shirt, lets us uncover so many layers of personality while he plays object of desire, that he seems to dare anybody to resist him. Oliver knows his voraciousness needs to be held in check. Chalamet's mouth while waiting to be kissed resembles that of the big fish we see being carried into the kitchen during an early scene. It is fundamentally a film about the workings of infatuation with a charmed fever that contaminates its characters.

Marzia (Esther Garrel) and Chiara (Victoire Du Bois), two French girls, friends of the family, who spend their summers in the same spot, experience their own awakening of feelings. Their insecurities and desires are not given the same amount of space as the love story between Elio and Oliver, but their emotions aren't treated as asides.

Elio's mother Annella (Amira Cesar) reads her son and husband an excerpt from a 16th century romance by Marguerite de Navarre about a knight and a princess. "What is better, to speak or to die?" How do you tell someone how you feel? "Words don't come easy," the pop song on the radio blasts into the air.

Michael Stuhlbarg, who deserves to be awarded movie father of the year for his role as professor Perlman, delivers a fantastic speech about parental love that is devoid of cliché and puts into words what children growing up all over the world can mostly only dream of. He is the kind father dominating past and future - who lets rise up an ancient statue out of Lago di Garda and passes on open-minded wisdom to his son about the treasure of pain in love.

During one of their lazy afternoon bicycle outings, Oliver and Elio stop at an old farmhouse to ask for a glass of water. There is a picture of El Duce above the entrance. The friendly woman brings them their drinks, sits back down on the bench in the sunshine and continues peeling the peas into a big wooden bowl. The boys ride onto Elio's favorite spot, a secret pond hidden by trees. The sequence is marvelous in its profound simplicity - you can feel the dry earth and smell the summer and history, still present is not spoken about.

Reviewed on: 11 Oct 2017
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First love blooms over a long, hot summer for a teenager in Italy.
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Director: Luca Guadagnino

Writer: James Ivory, based on the book by André Aciman

Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois

Year: 2017

Runtime: 132 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy, France, US, Brazil

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