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Call Me By Your Name

 Love, Italian Style 

Armie Hammer
Armie Hammer
Sony Pictures Classics
 132 Minutes
Directed byLuca Guadagdino
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer 
Call Me by Your Name

Not surprisingly, two of this year’s likely Best Picture candidates share a common theme. Both Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name are historical coming-of-age dramas. Slightly more surprisingly, they share a common co-star, in this case Timothee Chalamet. But what’s most surprising is that Chalamet was, prior to 2017, a virtual cinematic unknown who burst onto the scene courtesy of his performances in these two movies, and he is now the only actor who realistically stands a chance of unseating Gary Oldman for this year’s Best Actor Oscar.


Call Me by Your Name is set in sun swept northern Italy in the summer of 1983. Each summer, an American college professor named Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his family spend a working vacation at his villa (although there rarely appears to be much work going on there), and, each year, he hosts a graduate student as an intern. In the past, these interns have been an annoyance for the family’s now 17-year-old son Elio (Chalamet), but this year the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer) proves especially disconcerting. Not only does Elio suffer the usual frustrations about having to share a bathroom and serve as travel guide for the new arrival, but he’s experiencing some unfamiliar emotions about Oliver as well.


At first, Oliver seems oblivious to Elio’s attraction to him, acting as the friendly American who becomes the center of attention among the young women in the community. Despite his attraction to Oliver, Elio spends time with a local girl, Marzia (Esther Garrel), whom he eventually takes to bed. That encounter proves somewhat unsatisfying, so Elio becomes bolder in his approaches to Oliver. At first, Oliver is reticent to return Elio’s advances (undoubtedly because of his understanding about how such an affair would be viewed), but the two eventually get together, and their encounter is far more romantic than physical. However, when Oliver eventually prepares to leave at the end of the summer, Elio is crushed.


In one sense, relatively little happens during the course of Call Me by Your Name, but, more precisely, a lot happens but it occurs gradually over a lengthy period of time. The film’s screenplay was written by James Ivory, who knows a thing or two about adapting complex novels, in this case a novel by Andre Aciman, written as a dreamlike, retrospective memoir by the adult Elio. Ivory’s script is deliberately paced, with each step in the path of Elio and Oliver becoming lovers carefully and deliberately laid out. Guadagnino is in no hurry to move things along, either; although Elio is generally the aggressor in the relationship, there is a good bit of hesitancy and backtracking on both sides, despite the obvious desire.


Although Armie Hammer is quite good here, his role is showier and more outgoing, as his character is generally brash and outgoing. Chalamet has by far the more difficult role, including a number of scenes involving fetishistic behavior (which I won’t describe in detail) that are bizarre yet somehow quite in character with a teenaged boy trying to get more comfortable with his own body and its urges. Through all of this, he shifts from brash (as in the clip below) to self-conscious and doubting and back as he tries to put his feelings into order.


Many directors would have rushed the first half of the movie along, but Guadagnino takes his time, letting the drama play out at length, sometimes too much length. He is aided considerably in that regard by the rustic setting and the shimmering heat that seems to slow everything down in the movie. Guadagnino’s last film was the similarly erotic A Bigger Splash, which also derived a good bit of its eroticism from its setting. Here, the setting is integral to what happens; it’s hard to imagine the film playing out in the same way in a more temperate clime.


One of the most surprising aspects of Call Me by Your Name is the refusal of the director or screenwriter or, indeed, any of the characters to condemn the central romance on moral grounds. Ironically, after the film was completed, revelations of Kevin Spacey’s predatory behavior became public, and several of his victims were close in age to Elio at a time when Spacey himself was close to Oliver’s age. Some people doubtless will be upset by the nature of the relationship between Oliver and Elio, but Guadagnino and the actors make it feel quite natural. And, when Elio is understandably crushed after Oliver departs, he gets some moral support from a surprising source in the film’s best scene, one that puts a bit of a different spin on a number of the events in the movie.


Although Call Me by Your Name has a lot going for it, the movie has some flaws, particularly in its treatment of its secondary characters. People show up and disappear in a sometimes haphazard fashion, especially Marzia and the other young women who spend time with Elio and Oliver. Indeed, the lack of interaction between Elio and Oliver on the one hand and these other characters tends to make some of the scenes that the director does choose to show a bit repetitive. It’s one thing to take time in establishing character; it’s another to repeat the same bits of business. As a result, the middle portion of the movie drags a bit in places.


Without the stunning performances from its acting ensemble, Michael Stuhlbarg, Armie Hammer, and, especially, Timothee Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name would be merely a well-made, nostalgic period piece, similar to Summer of ’42, It’s the performances that elevate the film to the status of one of the year’s best and also keep out any suggestion of tawdriness. This is definitely an unconventional love story, to be sure, but it’s a genuine one, and the full arc of its impact on an impressionable 17-year-old teenager makes for a bittersweet mix of love and heartbreak. Critics are quite right to call out this movie and its cast for acclaim.

In this scene, Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer banter about a musical selection.

Read other reviews of Call Me by Your Name: 

Call Me by Your Name (2017) on IMDb